Michael Hansen Responds – A Critique of Open Theism

Michael Hansen of Brief Inquisition was gracious enough to write a response to last week’s post Apologetics Thursday – God Does Not Let Eli’s Sons Repent:

My Response to Christopher Fisher (A Critique of Open Theism)

The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 29:29)

Last month I wrote a post title “An Example of Where I See Calvinism in the Bible“. In this post I looked at a passage in 1 Samuel where a particular Calvinistic point of doctrine seemed clearly laid out in narrative form.

In the passage Phinehas & Hophni (sons of the high priest Eli) were abdicating their roles as priests and committing many sinful acts in Israel. Eli admonishes his sons to repentance but he sons refuse to heed their fathers admonition. In the passage we are given the reason for the sons disobedience: “it was the will of the LORD to put them to death.”

I took this example in scripture as an opportunity to show a particular Calvinistic doctrine. The doctrine is that of God’s sovereignty over human volition (the will). I explained that in this passage we see two things happening: 1) the willing disobedience of Phinehas and Hophni & 2) the reason for that disobedience, the will of God.

The ultimate conclusion is that the will of man is subservient to the will of God. I believe this is Biblical as it is clearly stated not only in this passage of scripture but in many others (Proverbs 21:1, Exodus 9:12, John 12:40, Genesis 50:20, and many more).

After I published the post ContemporaryCalvinist.com linked to it as a good example of seeing Calvinism in the Old Testament. If I remember correctly this brought my post under the criticism of GodisOpen.com, a cite committed to promoting the theology of “Open Theism”.

I am a layman so I do not pretend to be a strong voice for Calvinism (although I am for Calvinism) nor to I claim to be a voice to contend with in criticism of Open Theism (although I am definitely against it).

That being said Christopher Fisher suggested that I offer a fuller rebuttal of Open Theism and offered to repost it over at GodisOpen.com. Consider this post my response!

Considering Deuteronomy 29:29 is the verse I have chosen to place as a banner over this post it will heavily shape my argument against Open Theism.

Before I set out to refute Open Theism I shall first set the ground work and parameters for argumentation. In my argumentation I am assuming scripture to be the ultimate authority. Secondly I am assuming that the following of Open Theism: 1) God is absolutely free and powerful to do anything and everything he desires. 2) God’s absolute commitment to relationship and human autonomy predicates that all his actions be based on relation cause and effect (aka human actions of willing), & 3) Because of this relational commitment, the future is open; God does not know what the future holds because he is awaiting the actions and reactions of free humans. In hopes that I have accurately described Open Theism I will now attempt to show why each of these premises falls short of the Biblical definitions of God, Man, and God’s relationship to human actions and willing. If you are concerned that I have created a “Straw man” of Open Theism then please refer to the definition set forth by my detractor (here).

For the sake of argument I will name the three assumptions above 1) The Freedom of God, 2) God’s Relational Commitment, & 3) An Open Future.

Premise 1: The Freedom of God

When it comes to the first premise of Open Theism (that God is absolutely free and powerful to do anything and everything he desires) I really have no qualms. In fact, as a Calvinist, this is one of the main doctrines that I hold so clearly. When I read Psalm 115:3 “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that he pleases.” I find myself saying “AMEN”. God is absolutely free. This is a claim of open theism and insofar as an open theist truly embraces this reality I have no argument to offer in rebuttal.

Before moving on I will press Open Theism in their commitment to this Biblical truth. Along with the passage in 1 Samuel that started this discussion are a host of other Biblical stories and teachings that seem to indicate God’s absolute freedom in areas that would make an open theist uncomfortable. One example would be that of Pharaoh in the Exodus story. There seems to be numerous passages where God is said to Harden Pharaoh’s heart in order that His determined purpose might come about (Exodus 9:12 in particular). The freedom of God also seems to be placed over the granting or withholding of repentance (a human action) in the Bible (see 2 Timothy 2:25)

While in principle I do agree with this claim of open theism (that God is totally free) I do wonder whether or not a true open theist will hold to if truly pressed on the areas where the Bible (remember this is our authority) seems to show God’s freedom even reigning over areas of human volition.

Premise 2: God’s Relational Commitment

In my opinion this truly is the heart of Open Theism. An open theist desires to place God’s gracious commitment to mankind at the forefront of their Biblical hermeneutic. An open theist will see passages like Genesis 6:6 which states that “God regretted making man and was grieved in his heart.” and see a God who is first and foremost an emotional God with very strong commitments to His creation and mankind the pinnacle of that creation.

This is the point in the argument where the rubber really meats the road between an open theist and someone who holds and orthodox view of God’s relation to the future.

My main critique of Open Theism is that it limits the emotional qualities of God to that of Man.

I believe that the argument of Open Theism argues from a belief that God’s emotions are limited to that of man’s emotions. Open Theism believes that if God reacts or responds to the actions of man (repentance, faith, sin, etc) then that is all there is to it. It is a bit cliche to say but I feel that it must be employed in this argument: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.” (Isaiah 55:8).

Throughout the Bible we do indeed see that God acts relationally with mankind. Many times God determines to wipe out a people yet ceases to do so when someone intervenes (Abram, Moses, Jonah [albeit reluctantly]). Yet we are also told that God is always acting behind, beneath, and above all these very personal workings in his sovereignty.

The most blatant Biblical example of this come from Acts 4 after Peter and John have been chastised by the Jewish leaders for preaching in the name of Jesus. Peter and John return to the Christians and they all offer up a prayer in response to the beginning machinations of Jewish persecution. Here’s what they say:

“Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:

“ ‘Why do the nations rage

and the peoples plot in vain?

26The kings of the earth rise up

and the rulers band together

against the Lord

and against his anointed one.bc

27Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.29Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Emboldening & Italics mine).

When one reads this section of scripture we see many layers of story taking place at one time. The first is that Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel conspire against Jesus. More emphatically we see that they all did what God had decided to take place beforehand.

How all this works is impossible to tell. That is why I chose Deuteronomy 29:29 to be a banner over this post. Does the Bible make it clear that God cares deeply for the actions of mankind? Yes! Does the Bible make it clear that God sovereignly ordains the actions of people and events? Yes! Moreover, does the Bible teach us how this works? No, it does not. But to neglect God’s authoritative working over history and humanity, even human volition, is to neglect what the Bible teaches.

This finally leads me to the final premise.

Premise 3: An Open Future

This final premise may be my shortest rebuttal because I find it the weakest premise of Open Theism. The idea is that God does not know what the future holds because it is dependent on both human actions and his response to those actions.

The reason this last premise is so easily argued against is due to the sheer amount of straightforward claims by God in scripture to the contrary. I have already mentioned the example in Acts 4 above so I will leave that were it is and simply quote a few verses by way of summation:

Isaiah 46: 8-11

8“Remember this and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
9 remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
10declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
11calling a bird of prey from the east,
the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
I have purposed, and I will do it.

Proverbs 19:21

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.

Isaiah 25:1

LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago.

Those things which God has planned of old he brings about regardless of the actions of man. Does he bring them about in and through the free actions of man? Yes!Even a greater mystery is the truth that God truly hates the free actions of man that he uses to bring about his purposes and would that they would not do them. This is beyond our ways and thoughts but we are not God.

Conclusion

In conclusion I would like to turn in a direction that might bring a little more enjoyment to any open theist who are reading this. I have stated a few times in this piece that the relationship between the absolute sovereignty of God and the reality of man’s freedom is a mystery. Moreover, I have stated that Deuteronomy 29:29 is the banner over this post.

I would like to concede to any open theist out there their criticism of Calvinism in so much as many Calvinists attempt to search out the secret things of God. Too often Calvinist are trying to find out who is and is not “elect”. Moreover, we are attempting to figure out if some people’s sin is a part of God’s plan or not. These are ridiculous questions if you ask me. These are things that belong to God and not to man. We are to live and occupy the world of revealed truth. That means that we are to regard all sin as heinous and all repentance as genuine. This does not mean that we ignore the fruit of someone’s life but it does mean we are careful to not damage true wheat in attempts to remove the tares.

Again I am thankful for Christopher Fisher for his interaction with this blog and again apologize if I have misrepresented any position that I myself do not hold. I am no theologian, I am simply a student of God’s word who wants to grow in my understanding of it.

Food for thought.

Michael

For original post, click here.

One comment

  1. That, HONESTLY, has to be the weakest rebuttal of Open Theism I’ve ever read.

    > The freedom of God.

    Open theists do not deny that God sometimes overrides human free-will. We note that this occasionally happens in Scripture. We believe that this is the exception to the rule and there are many, many more times where God does NOT override human freedom.

    > My main critique of Open Theism is that it limits the emotional qualities of God to that of Man.

    The “god” of calvinism is one that is absolutely EMOTION-LESS! And then you quote one further instance where God decides what will happen. Again, one instance (or even a few) does not make a default.

    > God says he knows the future in scripture – paraphrase

    Terrible examples.

    Isaiah 46 says that God declares the beginning from the end which is about the fact he’ll be around for both, not transient like humans. It also says that God has spoken and will accomplish his purpose – this falls under your “freedom of God” category. We totally believe God can do what he wants.

    Both the Proverbs 19 & Isaiah 25 quotes also falls under your “freedom of God” category. Yep, we believe God will accomplish what he wants to accomplish.

    It would appear that you do not understand Open Theism – you’re in no position to critique it until you can represent our claims in a way that we agree with.

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