By Joe Sabo
Re: Why I am not an Open Theist
The author, referred to from now on as “Sire”, begins his article by separating Open Theists into two categories: Philosophical Open Theists and Biblical Open Theists. While I tend to think more gets made of this distinction than is necessary, I will begin not by addressing this separation, but by addressing some of the statements made by Sire in his summary of the two modes of approaching Open Theism.
“This movement comes from the idea the propositions directed toward the future have no truth value because the proposition has no grounding and the future is pure contingency (open).”
This sentence would be a better representation of what I think Sire is trying to say if it read: “Because the future does not exist, some events that will obtain have no current truth value.” To say that “the future is pure contingency” is not exactly correct. It is the position of the Open Theist that the “future” is a mix of contingent events and settled events. I have yet to meet an Open Theist yet that would affirm that all future events are contingent, and while that person may exist, I would take issue with that claim.
“That leaves humans with the ultimate choice over the future.”
The premise is false. If the future is a mix of contingent and settled events, human influence only extends into the contingent areas insofar as human influence is able to influence them.
“They also tend to think Calvinism, Arminianism, and Molinism leaves God with being the sole culpable agent for the evils the world contains. This is because God was able and fully aware that evil would occur and yet didn’t stop or intervene to prevent evil. He was able and yet unwilling to stop evil”
Of the Theologies offered, Calvin Himself made God the author of evil, so to say that in Calvinism God is responsible for evil is not a stretch. It is a feature of the theology. Arminians and Molinists are able to resolve their Theodicy individually without making God responsible for evil. The Free Will Defense offered by Alvin Plantinga for example does this. Also, not all theodicies that are not “Open” state that God is able yet unwilling to stop evil. Furthermore, there are some theodicies that do state God is able to stop evil and are still able to absolve Him of the responsibility of creating it. In all honesty, I am not sure what the point of the quote above is. It does not convey the Open View, nor the opinion of all Open Theists.
“The exegetical open theist thinks the Bible clearly and in an unqualified way states that God does not know the future. Take for example this prooftext:
“And they built the high places of Baal that are in the valley of Ben-Hinnom to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I had not commanded them nor had it entered My mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin,” (Jer. 32:35, 19:5, 7:31).
The issue is that the “to enter one’s mind” or “עָלָה עַל־לֵב” is more about inclination and disposition. It is language to convey this is not what the individual thinks is morally acceptable.”
It is commonly understood that what is being conveyed in the verse above is that Yahweh never thought to command Israel to engage in child sacrifice. The NLT gets this right:
“They have built pagan shrines to Baal in the valley of Ben-Hinnom, and there they sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molech. I have never commanded such a horrible deed; it never even crossed my mind to command such a thing. What an incredible evil, causing Judah to sin so greatly!”
Sire is right to correct those that would try to use this verse as a prooftext of “God not knowing the future”, however, his correction is not needed here.
“Third, there are texts that teach God knows everything that has or will ever happen.”
Sire then goes on to list a great many verses. I will be responding to them in light of these being verses that “teach God knows everything that has or will ever happen.” Open Theists do not dispute that God has perfect knowledge of all past events, so I will be directing my comments on the “future” aspect of these verses. Since these verses are presented as prooftexts for God knowing all that will ever happen, and there is no interpretation offered by Sire of these verses, I will be restricting my comments by trying to find “God knows all that will ever be” in them.
“Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please” (Isaiah 46:9-10).
Since a correct definition of the Open View tells us that some events that will obtain are contingent and some events that will obtain and settled, it is within the scope of the Open View for God to disseminate to humans, with certainty, settled aspects of the future. It is even possible within the Open View for God to disseminate contingent events, though, because the events in question are contingent there is an opportunity for a prophecy to fail or go unfulfilled, as we do read about in the Bible. What this text does not say, is that God knows for certain all events that will obtain. There is a difference between saying some things about the future and saying all things about the future. Also, God stating that His purpose will stand is not a revelation of His knowledge, but a statement of His power.
“Who can fathom the Spirit of the LORD, or instruct the LORD as his counselor? Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge, or showed him the path of understanding?” (Isaiah 40:13-14).
I have no idea how this is supposed to be a prooftext for God knowing everything that will ever happen.
“Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD” (Psalm 139:4).
Again, how this is a prooftext for God knowing anything other than what the Psalmist is going to say before he says it, I don’t know. However, I will address the thinking that God knowing what we will say before we say it somehow conflicts with the Open View. God has perfect present knowledge, and this includes chemical levels in the brain, firing of neurons, all past events in the chain of events that led to this present, as well as any number of factors that go into a word before it is said. Given a complete knowledge of an individual’s brain state, and the events leading up to the current brain state, it would not be difficult for God, as powerful and wise as He is, to know what someone will say before they say it.
“O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways” (Psalm 139:1-3).
I find it interesting that these are the verses leading up to the verse above. When read in order and in context, these verses only support my understanding of verse 4. In total, the picture is very clear.
“My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—when I awake, I am still with you” (Psalm 139:15-16).
Again, at best this teaches God knew the days that were ordained for the Psalmist before the Psalmist was born. The verse does not say God operates this way with all humans, nor does it teach that God knows “all that will be.”
“Can anyone teach knowledge to God, since he judges even the highest?” (Job 21:22).
“He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit” (Psalm 147:4-5).
I am assuming that because these verses say that nobody can teach knowledge to God and that His understanding has not limit, Sire is interpreting these statements as pertaining to God’s knowledge of future events. I do not see the correlation. However, within the Open View, the future does not exist as a list of certainties to be known so it is not as if we would have some difficulty affirming that nobody can teach God knowledge or that His understanding has no limit or that accepting these truths somehow invalidates our theology.
“And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever” (1 Chronicles 28:9).
God only need possess perfect present knowledge to be able to search every heart and understand every desire and every thought.
“From heaven the LORD looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth—he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do” (Psalm 33:13-15).
“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).
This sounds like God is looking down on Earth and considers all that they do. How this is a prooftext for God knowing “all that ever will be”, again, I do not see. If anything, this shows the opposite.
“Whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:20).
Of all the verses offered, this is the only one that I can understand someone interpreting and saying that God knows “all that will ever be.” However, if we use a little logic and common sense, we will see that it does not. When John says God knows “everything” he does not mean God knows the moon is made of cheese, or that He knows Adam didn’t eat of the fruit, or that all humans can breath underwater. God “knowing everything” is to be understood as God knowing the truth about reality. That is to say that God’s knowledge of reality lines up perfectly with the facts of reality. In the Open View, this is not to say that God knows “all that will ever be” because the future is not comprised of a list of settled events that will obtain, but; a mix of events that will obtain either because God has determined they will or they are causally determined and events that will or will not obtain. In short that future is made up of events that will happen and events that might happen. If this is the truth about reality then God would know it as such. Events that will obtain would be known by God as events that will obtain and events that might or might not obtain will be known by God as events that might or might not obtain. We affirm John 3:20.
“Furthermore, the philosophical Open theist view only has weight if you accept agents have libertarian freedom. To that Calvinist wisely reject and that is a problem for Arminians, Pelagians, and Molinism. The Calvinist can ground the truth value of future tensed propositions in the Will of God.”
To be honest, this statement is completely incoherent to me. I understand that Sire is simply dismissing libertarian free will within it, but there is no argument against libertarian free will, no logical basis given for it’s rejection, and no alternative offered. There is however, a list of theological positions. But again, there is no explanation of their inclusion or their relevance.
“Another verse contradicting Open Theism is Eph. 1:11.
11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will,
This verse teaches God has from eternity has purposed and worked all things according to his will. History unfolds by the sovereignty of God. This must be everything to ever exists as the two prior verses show. This is said against a pagan background where you could resist the god’s wills.”
There is much that can be said about the interpretation offered by Sire here. For the sake of brevity and succinctness, I am going to quote Greg Boyd.
“This text has frequently been used to support the view that all things happen in accordance with God’s counsel and will. But this reads too much into the text. This passage says that all that God accomplishes is “according to his counsel and will,” not that all that takes place is God’s accomplishment in accordance with his counsel and will.
Scripture is clear that much of what takes place in this world is not God’s will. God detests sin and the gratuitous suffering it produces. But in all things — including evil things — God is at work to further his sovereign purpose as much as possible. Whatever God accomplishes is consistent with “his counsel and will” which Paul specifies as centering on acquiring a people for himself who ‘have obtained an inheritance…in Christ.’”
“We also may consider whether Open theism alleviates us of philosophical difficulties. Some think the best answer to the problem of evil can be given by the open theist. They maintain God simply didn’t know what Adam and Eve would’ve done and thus aren’t to blame for any of the evils that occur.”
I don’t know any Open Theists that appeal to God not knowing Adam and Eve would sin as a basis for their theodicy. Frankly, it is not my desire here to give a list of viable theodicies, book titles with their authors, or explain the many ways that God is not responsible for evil within the world, as it would take far too much of my time to do so in this platform. I would only suggest that Sire read some Open Theist authors who have written offered a theodicy if his desire is to critique the theodicy of Open Theists. “Satan and the Problem of Evil” by Greg Boyd and “The Uncontrolling Love of God” by Thomas Jay Oord would be good places to start. It should also be stated that while the answer to the Problem of Evil will be different from one Open Theist to the other, appealing to God not knowing whether or not Adam and Eve would sin should not be one of them.
“If God doesn’t know everything then he can’t be the source of objective moral norms and obligations.”
It simply does not follow that the source of objective moral norms must “know everything”. Sire then makes some statements based upon this faulty assumption. It would take too much of my time to unpack them here.
“Furthermore, Open Theism undermines the notion that God is morally perfect or is a moral agent at all. An Open theist wishes to maintain it is logically impossible for God to sin. On the other hand, it wishes to teach that without the ability to choose otherwise(even contrary to desires or characters) an agent is a robot. If a man only does good actions because it is his nature to do good, then he is merely a mechanism. But they wish to maintain that God does only good deeds because of his holy character. This means God doesn’t have the choice to choose not to do evil because it is not a logically possible state of affairs. This means the open theist thinks that God is a mechanism and not an agent or he can possibly do evil. But if it is possible for God to do evil then at any moment he could become the greatest force of evil at any moment. Thus, he isn’t morally perfect being. “
There are two objections here.
- If God can sin He isn’t morally perfect
- If God can’t sin He isn’t a moral agent
The answer to the first objection is to point out that it is fallacious to say that if a being has the capacity to sin, that being is morally imperfect. If a being has the capacity to sin, yet never does, that being is morally perfect. By definition. To be morally perfect is to never sin, moral perfection speaks nothing of capacity.
Regarding the second objection, there are many Open Theists that affirm God has the capacity to commit moral evil. While this may sound offensive to some, it is consistent with the theology of openness. There are two other ways that are logically consistent with Open Theism that do not affirm God currently has the capacity to commit moral evil yet maintain His moral agency.
- It could be said that God at some point in the past had the capacity to sin, but because He has chosen to do good consistently for thousands (hundreds of thousands, millions, billions?) of years, doing good is so much a part of His character that He has grown past the capacity for sin. For clarification, in this view God has never chosen to do other than what is morally good, and because of this, He never will.
- One could believe that all that is necessary for moral agency is for the moral agent in question to believe that they have the capacity to do otherwise. This view requires quite a bit of nuance in order to accurately articulate it and it is beyond my means to do so here.
“Since God is ignorant of certain things then truth is above and higher than God.”
Truth is not something that can be higher or lower than something else. Truth is simply facts pertaining to reality.
“ A personal God thus isn’t the ultimate explanation of reality. The open theist won’t appeal to another God or to some impersonal force like fate. The sole guide of the reality for an Open Theist is impersonal chance.”
I do not understand how this statement logically follows from the statement about truth being higher than God.
“If Libertarian freedom is the case, then at any moment a creature could’ve corrupted the words of the Old and New Testament. This leaves inerrancy up to chance and not to God’s overarching providence.”
This is at least the second time in his blogpost Sire appeals to something that “could’ve happened” as an argument. It seems as if Sire must invent an alternate universe where his points would be valid. The Open Theist trusts in the power of God, His wisdom, and His goodness to accomplish His purposes.