Dallas Willard on Open Theism

From his correspondence with Roger Olsen:

I think I would not be called an open theist by any thoughtful person who knows what I write and say. The points which strike some people as ‘open’ might be these. I believe that God does modify his actions in response to human beings on some occasions: does what he was not going to do or does not do what he was going to do. And I do not think he has to know every detail of created reality to bring it out where he wants it. But there isn’t anything He needs or wants to know that he does not know. The picture of God as a great, unblinking, cosmic stare is a projection upon him of how some people try to deal with control from a human point of view. But he has resources for achieving his purposes that no human being has, and he doesn’t have to be mean or immediately on top of every detail of existence in order to run the universe. He does have considerable help and no need to micro-manage everything. If I leave some things to my helpers, as an administrator, that does not mean that I close off part of the future to my sight. But if I did not limit myself in terms of what I could know, and what I would do, it would soon ruin the operation. Limiting myself (‘holding back’) is not the same as ‘closing it off.’ Omniscience refers to God’s power to know absolutely everything. That I firmly accept. But I believe he does, by his choice, not know everything he could know—without it in any way defeating his purposes—and I also believe that human interaction with him modifies what he does or does not do in the details of individual and group life.

48 comments

  1. Willard wants to see God as interacting without being lumped with OT. I have never figured out how God could choose NOT to know something, wouldn’t be illogical since He would have to know it to judge that it is something He doesn’t want to know? He cannot have it both ways, it is like compatibilists they don’t want to ruffle feathers or be ostracized for their beliefs it might hurt their book sales.

    1. I concur…Willard and Roger Olson are open, but need to keep thinking these things through. An omniscient being cannot choose to not know the knowable. The reason God does not have exhaustive definite foreknowledge relates to creating a contingent vs closed universe. EDF is logically incompatible with libertarian free will. It does not make sense to say He could know something, but chooses to not know it (while men, Satan, newspapers, etc. know it!).

      1. Yes Clarke did say something similar about God not being emotionless but still asserted foreknowledge of future acts of men

      2. Clarke was a strong free will guy who also didn’t exactly accept Calvinism views on depravity or inability

              1. Still there is nothing here about God “CHOOSING” to not know something which is illogical, but instead it supports the idea that free-moral agents because of their personal sovereignty originate new responses and actions that cannot be know by even God because they do not yet exist. That is a far different and more logical idea.

  2. My guess is that Dallas would say that God can know everything if He wishes to exert Himself that way. He can choose to not know simply by not taking the trouble to look. We sometimes get stuck in the Platonic view of God that he knows everything simply as a feature of His existence, rather than the biblical notion that God knows by looking. Not illogical at all.

    1. God does not have to contemplate zillions of possibilities, but I do not think He is like a finite being who has to search things out if He wants to know them. This leaves the scenario of someone in a gay bar being aware of sin, demons knowing it, but God Himself somehow not knowing it? This is incoherent even by Open Theism standards.

  3. William,

    “God does not have to contemplate zillions of possibilities, but I do not think He is like a finite being who has to search things out if He wants to know them.”

    Why do you think your statement is true?

    1. Some Open Theist philosophers feel that God would know every possibility just as if they were real facts. Others would say the divine mind does not have to think about zillions of perverted sins, but could contemplate them even as we can. God is not a computer, but an intelligent thinker. There are other things that are in His immediate knowledge. He is omnipresent and omniscient, so He would know all actual past and present reality. The future consists of possibilities and can be thought of in a different way. The discussions around this can get very technical (beyond my expertise) and speculative (since we have limited revelation on the nature of the divine mind and tend to think from a finite view).

      1. OK William, I get it. You are trapped in the “omnis” and “ims” of Greek philosophy. No sense talking any more about this. Just don’t pretend you base your view of God on the Bible. Quote the real source, Plato, instead.

        1. Are you a Bob Enyart fan? I am an Open Theist (40 years) who recognizes neo-Platonic influence on traditional omni understanding. There is nothing wrong with sovereignty, omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience when understood biblically and coherently (see Open Theist Oxford Richard Swinburne’s Coherence of Theism). We can qualify these things to avoid Calvinistic misunderstanding of sovereignty, traditional error on omniscience as exhaustive definite foreknowledge being compatible with libertarian future free will contingencies, etc.

          It would seem you are not reading what I am saying or responding with a knee jerk reaction that does not reflect academic rigour.

          The fact is that the vast majority of Open Theist theologians and philosophers would rightly disagree that God can be ignorant of the knowable by choice when finite creatures would know these things!?

          You need to tweak your view to be credible as an Open Theist, not me.

            1. Yes, they have connections with Enyart :) Stepping away from legit terms because they have been misunderstood is not necessary. Just because Calvinists are wrong about sovereignty as meticulous control does not mean we have to abandon a legitimate term. We should clarify and define/redefine theological terms. It is an over-reaction to neo- Platonism to throw the baby out with the bath water. We do not have to abandon immutability, but clarify strong vs weak immutability (Platonic changelessness vs change in some ways, but not in other ways). We could jettison simplicity, impassibility, etc. perhaps.

              The most rigorous Open Theist scholars do not take the omni/imm negation approach (e.g. Richard Swinburne). I would suggest his sophistication exceeds radio preacher Enyart (as much good as Bob has done in general terms), the one who seems to use this approach more than Pinnock, Boyd, Sanders, Basinger, Hasker, Rice, etc.

              1. Interesting reply. :-) However, “The most rigorous Open Theist scholars do not take the omni/imm negation approach (e.g. Richard Swinburne)” he is more of a philosophical Open Theist, rather than a biblical Open Theist. :-)

                1. Swinburne is an analytical philosopher, but as an Eastern Orthodox Christian, also values and uses Scripture as the Word of God. I disagree with various things he believes, but he does not have to throw out legit terms, just the wrong understandings of them. You seem to be missing my point.

                1. We use all kinds of theological terms from Greek, Latin, German, etc. They are in our English academic writings to summarize, convey truth, etc. Some translations may use omnipotent, Sovereign, etc. even if that is not the best translation. KJV uses theological terms (justification, etc.) that are not equivalents of the underlying original languages. The key is whether the concepts are biblical and whether German, Latin, Greek, French, English, etc. words can be defined and convey concepts. The influence of Greek words/philosophy can be positive, negative, or neutral. When talking about the trinity, it is not unbiblical to use theological terms that are not in proof texts to communicate the biblical truth. Omni is legit IF defined and understood properly (as Open Theists are doing; not all Platonism is false, etc.).

                  1. If I remember well, In Christopher Fisher (the author of this website)’s book “God is Open: Defending the Open Theism of the Biblical Authors”, Chris defines Open Theism as weeding out the Greek philosophy and going back to the original Jewish concepts (this is my paraphrase).

                    1. Yes, undo neo-platonic influences do need to be rooted out (e.g. Augustine’s syncretism). This is why I am an Open Theist. This does not mean we have to abandon historical, legitimate terms/semantics in English that can help dialogue. Omnipotence is not a dirty word, but it is qualified by the doable (logical limitation), can be delegated, is under God’s sovereign control, is not divorced from His character, etc.

  4. William,

    I will stick with the Bible’s description of God without the Platonic additions. If you want to add the Paganism go right ahead…..

    1. Seriously? Is it wrong to say that God is omnipotent, all-powerful, Almighty? Is it wrong to say that He is all-knowing (omniscient)? Immutability (strong) as absolutely changeless is Platonic. Immutability (weak) as God’s character and attributes being unchanging, but His knowledge, experiences, relations, emotions, etc. as being changing is fully biblical.

      How do you describe the triune God/trinity? The incarnation/kenosis of Christ, etc. etc. You are being hypocritical, since there are many terms you and all believers use that are not in the Bible. If you are a KJVO, I cannot help you.

      When I talk about omniscience as knowing all that is knowable, I am talking about the biblical God, not paganism, not Platonism.

      You are being unreasonable and probably displaying ignorance and lack of education or super-spirituality.

      Semantics and concepts need to be defined and qualified to communicate beyond a simplistic level that could lead to confusion and error. We all do this, including yourself. I cannot help you

      Do you have a TOL name?

  5. William,

    Several things to comment on;

    What is a TOL name?

    Let the name calling begin!!! Let’s see. Disagreeing with you means I am unreasonable, ignorant, lack “education, am “super spiritual” (I take it this is bad), hypocritical, “simplistic”. Surely you can be more creative in your insults, William! Put that classical education to work!

    It would seem to me that you are the one who needs help, mired in NeoPlatonism as you are. Put down the Paganism, William. Put it down, I say!

    How can an “omniscient” God, who knows “all that is knowable” square with the God of the OT who is going down to Sodom to see if what He is hearing is true?

    1. TOL/Theology on Line…sheesh…name calling?! I am not prone to insulting people like you do. I have been an Open Theist for 40 years. How much have you really studied it? Using the word omnipotent does not make one steeped in Neo-Platonism or paganism. Grow up.

      Boyd is a prominent Open Theist. He considers God going down to see a Hebraic expression. Open Theists debate and differ on that text. You want to avoid finite godism. God changing His mind is taken at face value by OT, not Calvinists.

      I AM AN OPEN THEIST. You are confusing me with classical Calvinists. Are you ignorant or immature? (There, an exception to my not calling names, but calling it like I see it, coming down to your level). Learn to read before you react wrongly.

  6. William,

    Excellent. We add to the list ignorant and immature. So far we have; ignorant, immature, unreasonable, ignorant, lacking in “education, “super spiritual” (I take it this is bad), hypocritical, “simplistic”.

    William, I never called you a Calvinist. I take your word that you are some kind of mixture of Platonist and Open Theist.

    You say, “You want to avoid finite godism”. Why would we want to avoid that, William? What frightens you about a finite God?

    1. Finite godism is polytheism like an infinite regress of Mormon men-gods. If you want a conversation on theological topics, you need to be more precise.

      God not having exhaustive definite foreknowledge is not finite godism.

  7. William,

    Reading comprehension. We were never even talking about “exhaustive definite foreknowledge”.

    Of course, the Bible never talks about other Gods. Never. really. Take my word for it. Read a little Plato…..

    I will now use precise words;

    You said, “You want to avoid finite godism”. How precisely is “Finite Godism” polytheism? What, precisely, is a “Morman Man-God”? How, precisely, does “Finite Godism” lead to an infinite regress?

    William, if we are to have this conversation, you will need to be a little more precise.

    How, precisely, William, is it possible to be a “Morman Man-God”?

    “Greetings, mortal, I am Mort the Morman Man-God!”! “Bow before me!”

    1. You misunderstand and misrepresent my views with ad hominem attacks, assertions, not argumentation. It is nonsense to say I am pagan, Platonic, have a different God like Allah (I am a biblical trinitarian who defends the Deity of Christ, etc. ). The Bible does talk about the one true God and many false or so-called gods.

      Mormonism talks about men evolving into gods. They have an infinite regress of finite gods. I affirm a maximally great concept of God that is not what you accused me of.

  8. William,

    Reading comprehension. I never said you were a Pagan. Your Platonic views are pagan. This is different than you worshiping Odin or something.

    But back to the matter at hand, William. You said, “You want to avoid finite godism”. Then you said “finite godism is polytheism”. And something about “Morman Man-Gods” and “infinite regress”.

    To use your words, ” If you want a conversation on theological topics, you need to be more precise.”

    William, could you, using your precision, explain why we must avoid “finite godism”? What if God is finite?

    Why do you affirm, like Plato, a “maximally great concept of God”? What if God isn’t “maximally great”? (whatever that means…. have to dig out my Plato on that)

    1. What are my Platonic views? I have been in line with standard Open Theism for 40 years rejecting Calvinism, etc. Open Theists can use the omni words without being pagan or Platonic (Enyart is not a Bible scholar and admits it, so his argument makes a point, but is simplistic).

      Finite godism would be an infinite regress of created gods, not the eternal, Almighty, uncreated triune God. Words have a range of meaning, so finite godism might mean different things in the context of Mormonism, Greek mythology, Process Thought, etc.

      You make inaccurate statements about having a different God if one uses ‘omni’ in a sentence or that one is Platonic, etc. This is simply ad hominem, not accurate.

      Using biblical, philosophical, theological language for communication is not pagan. One can take a straight literalist Bible approach, but this does not allow debate on nuances of ideas that are not explicitly covered in texts. The problem is that you are problem ignorant of theological, philosophical discussions and wrongly assume any philosophical terminology cannot convey biblical truth. The reality is that Open Theism deals with biblical, historical, theological, practical issues. The modern seminal book by Pinnock, etc. (Openness of God 1994) has chapters on all of these issues. When dealing with time, eternity, free will, determinism, etc., philosophical semantics and concepts come into play. Logic, knowledge, ontology, etc. are philosophical issues that relate to theological truth. This can be godly, biblical, or pagan, unbiblical. Get it?

      Alvin Plantinga, Aquinas, Anselm, Swinburne (OT), Hasker (OT), etc. make philosophical and biblical arguments. Some Open Theists use philosophy and logic (Boyd, Hasker, Swinburne), etc. to make sure our views are coherent. They use terminology to discuss and respond to Calvinists, Molinists, etc.

      We need to bring these things to the common level, but there is room for more academic, scholastic discussions to be BIBLICAL and COHERENT. Evangelical Theological Society (not OT) has deep discussions and others translate it to the average person. It is the same as a pastor who has studied Greek to help his exegesis and preaching, yet does not get all technical in a Sunday School class or sermon.

      If you are anti-intellectual, you will be prone to error and sloppy thinking which does not help OUR Open Theism cause.

  9. William,

    OK, where are we so far: I’m ignorant, immature, unreasonable, lacking in “education, “super spiritual” (I take it this is bad), hypocritical, “simplistic”, inaccurate, ad hominem in my speech, anti intellectual, prone to error and a sloppy thinker.
    Who’s the name caller here, William?

    But back to the matter at hand. I said your notion of what God is like is Platonic. Well, as an open theist you carve out exhaustive knowledge of the future, so I guess that would make you a semi-platonist.

    William, how does your notion of an “eternal, Almighty, uncreated, maximally great triune God differ from Plotinus’ concept of the “supreme, totally transcendent “One””?

    If it walks like a Platonist, talks like a Platonist, thinks like a Platonist……. well, you get the picture.

  10. William,

    I am still intrigued about the concept you have introduced me to; The Mormon God-Man. It will be interesting to see how that differs from your semi-platonic view of God.

    1. In Mormonism, their plurality of gods are an infinite regress of pre-existent souls/men who became exalted to godhood. Mormon men also expect the same thing for exaltation if they follow the rules.

      Classical and Open Theism affirms an eternal, triune, uncreated Creator (not eternal souls, eternal matter, etc.). He alone is YHWH, Almighty God by nature. He is not a finite man who becomes a God, but an uncreated spirit who creates ex nihilo (vs ex materia/eternal matter view of Mormons). Some wrongly accuse Open Theism as being finite godism because we deny exhaustive definite foreknowledge. This is nonsense, but a true accusation of Mormonism, a pseudo-Christian cult. Open Theism is fully biblical, evangelical and differs on the nature of creation (partially open vs settled), not whether God is omniscient or not (He is since He knows all that is knowable). Mormonism is a Platonic view, Greek polytheism. Open Theism (our view) is NOT, but is strictly monotheistic. Since we affirm the triune God, it is a ridiculous accusation to say we have a different God than Calvinists and Arminians?!

  11. William,

    Excepting EDF…..how does your notion of an “eternal, Almighty, uncreated, maximally great triune God differ from Plotinus’ concept of the “supreme, totally transcendent “One””?

    If your concept of God, excepting EDF, is the same as Plotinus, that would make you a semiplatonist.

    1. God is eternal, uncreated. This is biblical truth whether Plato agrees or not. God is not a big man. He is maximally great (which needs defining; for some, this means immutable; for us, it is qualified immutability, etc.). God is supreme, whether Platinus agrees or not. Calvinistic meticulous control sovereignty is wrong. Biblical, providential, responsive sovereignty is right (sovereignty is not a pagan concept or dirty word). Verses in Isaiah and Acts show that God is transcendent and immanent. This does not mean we embrace Calvinism or Process Thought/pantheism.

      Who said my God is the same as Plotinus?! EDF is a distinctive Open Theist issue. I also reject strong immutability/impassibility for weak immutability (as do other Open Theists).

      Your logical fallacy is an overgeneralization and guilt by association. Socinus had some Open Theist ideas, but denied the Deity of Christ. I affirm the Deity of Christ, so the Socinian accusation by some is false (cf. Arminianism is not Pelagianism and Calvinism is not Islam or fatalism).

      Learn to think.

  12. William,

    Who said your notion of God is the same, with the exception of EDF, as Plotinus’? I did. I said it. I called you a semiplatonist. I accused you of semiplatonism.

    Asking you a question is like asking a politician a question. They always answer a different question, a question you didn’t ask.

    Once again, William….

    Excepting EDF and the Trinity…..how does your notion of an “eternal, Almighty, transcendent, immanent, uncreated, supreme, sovereign, maximally great God differ from Plotinus’ concept of the “supreme, totally transcendent “One””?

    Reading comprehension, William. Reading comprehension.

    1. You have not given any evidence of your false accusation. The semantics comment is not an insult, but your root problem. You wrongly think that if an Open Theist uses an omni word, then he is not biblical, but pagan.

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