Open Theism


(Jimmy Sellers) #1

How often do you run into a discussion on the topic of Open Theism? Here is a link to the topic.

https://carm.org/what-is-open-theism

I have no strong opinion on the subject nor have I researched it’s history but I would be very interested in what you think/know about the subject.

Gregory Boyd, a well-known advocate of Open Theism says,

"Much of it [the future], open theists will concede, is settled ahead of time, either by God’s predestining will or by existing earthly causes, but it is not exhaustively settled ahead of time. To whatever degree the future is yet open to be decided by free agents, it is unsettled."4


(Anthony Ables) #2

That is a good question and some of my friends brought this up before. To me if God says He is going to do something, but cannot be certain that He can, then His faithfulness comes under question.

The way I pictured this way of thinking is like Lilly pads on a pond the Lillie’s represent God’s certainty and the water surrounding each Lilly represents every route that can be taken to that next Lilly. As you start to think about the plan to get from one Lilly to the next Lilly, you realize that in order for there to be absolutely no doubt to get to the next one, the Lilly pads have to continually get bigger until the pond is topped with one Lilly pad covering the whole surface.

When it comes to God’s sovereignty and our free will it can be difficult for us to know what is the relationship between the two. I personally believe that just because you know something is going to happen doesn’t mean it is determined. However, when we want something to happen we can work with other people to.have that thing come to completion. So when God is working with us who can be against us and when we do things because it is a reflection of his will then how much joy would that be to God that we seek to do the things that He wants to do.

Hope this helps.


(Roger Greene) #3

Hi Jimmy, so as I understand what the article is saying is that Open Theists believe that God has limited knowledge of the future and exercises limited control over events on earth. I can’t say I’ve ever really run into a discussion on that subject. Most of the conversations on the subject of free will are in relation to salvation, Heaven, Hell, and so on. I haven’t personally encountered anyone who has taken it down this road. But I’ve heard that argument before.

I think the primary point of contention, where people go wrong, is that since we do not know the exact point in which to delineate God’s sovereignty versus man’s free will, we come up with all sorts of explanations such as this: that God is not fully sovereign because we have free will. It is certainly a tempting argument because it gives us some nice ground to stand on for explaining suffering, etc.

But in the end you lose far more than you’d gain if that were true. If God is not fully sovereign and cannot accomplish His ends as he has set forth, then what hope is there? I think that ends up painting a fairly bleak outlook on life.

I also don’t think you can make that case Biblically, certainly not without throwing out most of the Bible.

I would say that Open Theism has a lot to overcome given that the Bible is God’s story and unfolds as He has laid it out. It is implied throughout the Bible that God is orchestrating everything that happens and God also directly refutes the idea that He is not in control. Just a few examples:

Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the ned from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying ‘My counsel shall stand and I will accomplish all my purpose,’

Isaiah 46:9-10

Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen.”

Isaiah 44:6-7

Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.

Revelation 1:17

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?

Numbers 23:19

Even before a word is on my tongue, behold O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it

Psalm 139:4-6

Then you can also look at all of the exacting prophecies God made that were fulfilled. The exile to Babylon, the return to Israel, the birth and rule of Cyrus, the destruction of Jerusalem, all the dozens of prophecies about Jesus: riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, the suffering he endured, death on the cross, and on and on.

God uses prophecy as validation that He is who He claims to be. If God were not fully sovereign, He would not have been able to fulfill his prophecies so exactingly.

I think if you look closely at the verses that support open theism and interpret them in light of the whole of scripture (not just taken out of context) they don’t contradict God’s omniscience at all. To use the examples from the article you provided:

In Exodus 32:14, God isn’t changing His mind because of Moses’ intercession in prayer, His intent the entire time was to bring Moses into that role of intercessor. After all, God had just rescued Israel from Egypt and had promised to make a great nation of them, He wasn’t about to destroy them and go back on His promise. He drew Moses into the process by inciting him to pray for the outcome God had intended all along.

In Genesis 22:12, God never intend for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. God specifically states in Deuteronomy 18:10 not to sacrifice your children. This situation was a picture of God sacrificing His son (Jesus). Whereas He called on Abraham to relent in sacrificing his son, God did not relent in sacrificing His. Note also that God provides the sacrifice Himself in place of Isaac, and later on in Jesus.

In Isaiah 5:3-7, God isn’t expressing surprise at how Israel has gone astray, He is asking what more he could have done to prevent it. Which is actually ironic if you think about it, because people are arguing that this is God expressing limits to his authority, yet in reality God is saying the only thing more that He could have done to ensure their obedience was to remove their free will entirely.

I really like what @Jables said “To me if God says He is going to do something, but cannot be certain that He can, then His faithfulness comes under question.” That is an excellent way of putting it.

After all:

Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens. Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast.

Psalm 119:90

Teaching like this is pretty scary because it isn’t Biblical, but is neatly wrapped in Bible verses. It erodes our hope for the future, the idea of God’s faithfulness, and also the majesty of God. Plus it forces you to interpret the Bible largely metaphorically, or simply to deny sections of it.

And again, it all comes down to the fact that we cannot clearly define the intersection between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will, so we come up with ideas that solve the lack of definition. You can go to one of the spectrum with open theism or to the other end with extreme Calvinism (all people are just robots pre-programmed to do X, Y, and Z). Both are equally wrong and truth is somewhere in the middle.


(Jimmy Sellers) #4

I know you are speaking to the action of God in your quote but how do we handle things that he foreknew that never happened? So what do you do when divine foreknowledge does not produce divine predestination? Like in 1 Sam 23:1-13. Here we have David inquiring of God as to future events. God answers in the affirmative. Later on in the story David avoids the predictions and the divine foreknowledge never happened. What are we to make of that? Is it safe to say that not all incidents of divine foreknowledge are bound to divine predestination?


(Roger Greene) #5

Jimmy, I think you’re talking about 2 Samuel 2:1-13, but I’m not sure I’m understanding the issue. In that verse David asks God if he should go to any of the cities in Judah and God answers that he should go to Hebron. Which he does and is anointed king by the tribe of Judah. I’m not seeing where David avoids what God said or prophecy is not fulfilled. Maybe I’m missing something?


(Jimmy Sellers) #7

1 Sam 23:1-13. Sorry about that.


(Dennis Gladden) #8

Thanks for opening this discussion @Jimmy_Sellers. Open Theism touches on a number of topics as the article brings out. I would like to discuss two ideas in this thread: God’s omniscience and foreknowledge, and our “free will”.

First, God’s omniscience and foreknowledge . As much as we can, let’s go back as far as Scripture takes us: “In the beginning.” We understand that God is eternal, without beginning or end, and at some point, “in the beginning, God created.” God chose to create. Creation is both God’s doing and His decision and at this point He is omniscient, He knows everything about everything there is.

In the moment when God chose to create, I believe He also determined how the creation would work. Paul cites two overarching laws of creation: The law of the Spirit of life in Christ and the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). When the creation works as God intended, there is life and blessing. We see this in the first days of creation. God speaks, and there is light, there is land, there is life in different forms, no questions asked. God speaks and His will is done, none of these has a will of their own to do anything but come forth. But God also gave to some in His creation the stewardship of choice. We see this in His command to Adam.

Genesis 2:16-17
16 “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden,
17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.”

Bottom line, creation is by God’s choice and He determined the laws by which it would work: blessing and life, or sin and death. He therefore knew everything about this creation from its beginning to its future course and nothing can operate outside His knowledge. I think what Jesus told the disciples the night of His betrayal are words He could have spoken in the beginning, “The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit. If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown aside” (John 15:5-6).

God knows His creation and how He made it and how it will behave. It can work no other way, creation is constrained by God’s laws. God has predetermined both the course of things and their consequences.

This brings us to our will and the question, how free is it ? I think we can reach a balanced understanding under these premises:

  • God indeed has granted us to make meaningful choices. By meaningful I mean that God has also created us to reason, to weigh options and to reach conclusions. And our decisions have consequences that we must either live, or die, by. Joshua understood this when he exhorted Israel, “Choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15).

  • God determines what our choices are. Joshua was essentially saying to Israel, here are your options: Serve God or serve the gods of the people around you. You can’t have it any other way, or both ways. You must choose one or the other. Jesus would say later, “No one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). Another time, God told Israel, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life…” (Deuteronomy 30:19). We are free — we are required — to choose, but we do not decide what the choices are.

  • God determines the consequences of our choices. I go back to the two great laws that Paul cites. Death is the wages of sin. I don’t like this, but I cannot change it. God determined this is how His creation works. Also true is that life is by the law of the Spirit. Jesus said it is the Spirit who gives life (John 6:63) and Jesus said, “I am the life.” Life comes only by the Father who resurrects the dead, the Son who is the resurrection and the Spirit who gives life. This is narrow, but it is how God says creation — and the new creation — work.

  • God does not determine the choice I make, but He declares His desire for me. Look again at Deuteronomy 30:19. God tells Israel their options — life and death, blessing and curse — and then He tells them what He wants: Choose life, that you may live.

Gather these threads and I think the picture is this. I have choices to make and I am free to make them, but my freedom is limited to the choices that God has ordained. I am free to choose, but I have no freedom to choose the consequences or to alter the ones God has ordained. In that God has sovereignly decreed the laws that govern life and death and the paths that lead to both, He has predetermined our destiny. I cannot carve another path or choose another destination — these are foreordained. But I can choose God’s way or mine, and reap the consequences.

What is the Gospel in all this? God has set life before us — even before us who are dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1). God has spread a table before us, upon which He has set the Bread of Life and living water. And He beckons, “Come, choose life. Come, eat and drink so that you hunger and thirst no more.” He declares the desire of His heart.

This leaves us with a question that God asked His ancient people, “Why will you die?” (Ezekiel 18:31, 33:11).


(Jimmy Sellers) #9

Thanks for your reply. I should have know that this would possibly move into a free will/sovereignty discussion. Poor topic heading on my part. What I should have ask is, does a divine act of foreknowledge (such as 1 Sam 23:1-13) bind that foreknowledge to a predestine action? In plain English , If God says it does that mean it will happen? Every time, some of the time? I don’t necessarily disagree with you post but you said

Is there a difference between a decreed and foreknowledge? David ask God, do I attack the Philistines, God said go and David prevailed. David ask if Saul was coming and God said yes and the people of Keilah would give David and his men over to Saul. Neither of these things happen. Why?


(Stewart Andres) #10

Great answers so far and this question really got me a few months ago when I was listening to RC Sproul. I had never thought about it before then and wish I had never even heard it.
Omnisience /predestination God vs free will and the idea of choice.
So first we can only learn from what we see and hear. So let’s take a look at God.
He created the Angel’s.
He created the heavens and the earth.
He created Man & Woman in his own image.
He flooded the earth.
He caused fire and brimstone to fall on Sodom and Gomorrah.
Plagued Egypt.
Parted the waters many times.
Gave the Israelites food.
Gave the Israelites the promised land.
And the list goes on and on.
Now we can all agree God put restrictions on nature, but did he also put restrictions on man and we see he did Adam is told not to eat of the tree for he will surely die and 900ish years later Adam does.
(I wounder did Eve out lived Adam?) so God put a restriction on us we can only live in this flesh so long. another’s well yes the tower of Babel he confused the nation, they all started to speak different languages. so there you have it a second restriction.
So my question if God is Omnisience and has predestin all things why the restrictions.
If we go back and look at creation Adam and Eve everything was complete perfection. Until the snake a angel defiying his creator and like a spoiled brat throwing Gods perfect creation into sin. Did God know that satin would defy him and attack his new creation is that why God put the tree in the garden that way Adam could one day eat of it or did God want us to have free will to make a choice for or against him. Just a thought.


(Jimmy Sellers) #11

Here is another article that is from the point of an advocate for this position Greg Boyd’s POV.

https://reknew.org/2008/01/what-is-open-theism-2/

Thought that it would be helpful. Would still like to hear some comments on the 1 Sam 23:1-13 verse.


(Dennis Gladden) #12

@Jimmy_Sellers , I would like to offer some comments about 1 Samuel 23:1-13. Thank you for persisting to keep this thread on topic.

Let’s consider some options.

  • God lied. He knew what would actually happen but did not answer accordingly.

  • God spoke out of ignorance. He did not really know what would happen but answered anyway. He guessed wrong.

  • This was not God speaking. Had God been the one speaking, Saul would have come and Keilah would have turned David in. These didn’t happen, therefore this was not God talking, according to this scripture,

Deuteronomy 18:21-22
21 You may say to yourself, ‘How can we recognize a message the LORD has not spoken?’
22 When a prophet speaks in the LORD’s name, and the message does not come true or is not fulfilled, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.

To conclude that God was lying or ignorant has no support in the Bible. In fact, this contradicts scripture. If the third proposition is correct, then David was deceived on this and, we must conclude, on other occasions when He sought God. David was experienced in seeking God and his conduct in this crisis indicates he believed this was indeed the Lord God of Israel who answered. If this is not God meeting David, then how can we have confidence in prayer?

Perhaps this passage is not about God’s foreknowledge, after all, but rather is about God knowing the thoughts of man, and His dealing with men according to their thoughts. There is abundant evidence for this throughout scripture.

But first, its evidence in this passage. Notice in verse 7 what Saul thinks. “David is trapped. God has delivered him [David] into my hand.” This is not true, of course, because David has escaped Saul a number of times already (1 Samuel 18-19). But Saul thinks the tables have turned and, acting on his thoughts, sets out on a course of action that will bring him to Keilah and set in motion the town’s betrayal.

In this scenario, the matter of God’s foreknowledge is rooted in His knowing how we think, and where our thoughts will lead when you follow their natural conclusion. So God answered truthfully: Saul is coming and the people are loyal to him. Even though you saved them from the Philistines, they will betray you.

In essence, God was revealing to David Saul’s plans — God has delivered you into my hand to destroy you. But events actually happened according to God’s revealed plan and David indeed was delivered, not to Saul, but from him.

A little different example is from Exodus 14 when God led Israel to the Red Sea. This is different from 1 Samuel 23 in that the events in Exodus unfold as God said they would. Pharaoh pursues the Hebrews and God rescues them and destroys the Egyptian army. But the action again is rooted in God knowing how Pharaoh thinks and He leads Israel accordingly.

Exodus 14:3
Pharaoh will say of the Israelites: They are wandering around the land in confusion; the wilderness has boxed them in.

A final example is in John 6:1-14, when the people are determined to make Jesus king. Jesus, of course, is not made king at this time. Why? Jesus knew their intentions and withdrew (John 6:15). To me, this is very similar to the events in 1 Samuel 23, where David, upon learning the intentions of Saul to keep him from becoming king, withdraws. In John, the Son of David, knowing the people’s intentions to make him king, withdraws. In both cases, the event does not happen.

It is not that God did not have foreknowledge. Rather, He knew very well the thoughts of man and where they lead and God acts according to this truth, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8).

These passages, then, become records of when God’s thoughts and our thoughts clash, and how God not only works in all things, but in all things also works for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.


(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #13

I found this in a book by Josh and Sean McDowell:


The book deals with difficult verses in the bible and I found these two entries to be helpful to the topic of open theism.


(Andrew Bulin) #14

Hey Jimmy. When I read this passage, I see that David felt like he was in danger and decided to check with God. His fear was that at his present state hanging around Keilah, that Saul would come down and make trouble. And as a wise tactician of war, he figures the people may not be willing to support him against a siege with Saul. God confirmed these things would happen. So David booked it! It’s not like God’s promises were not fulfilled. Given the present circumstances, David assumes a series of events and God confirmed David’s fear. He then had the opportunity to hang around or leave, leading to the effect of no David, no Saul, no turning David over by Keilah.


(Sandy) #15

Thank you @Jimmy_Sellers for the challenging question on 1 Sam 23:1-13!
I had to go to the Author for understanding. Thank you Holy Spirit!

I like @andrew.bulin how you put it! (now that I can see it too) :slight_smile:
I’d like to speak more on “God confirmed these things would happen”.

Jimmy, I think it’s all about intent here…God knowing the heart of man! God knew that Saul would come after David, which we do see in the verses and chapter following, and He knew Keilah would hand David over if Saul found him. So, He answered as He knew what was in their hearts to do, when David inquired of Him, and David wisely acted and fled based on Godly counsel.

We can think of any hypothetical here- (sorry, I can’t right now) :slight_smile:
This does not at all detract from God’s omniscience! Indeed it’s why I ought to be seeking His advice way more often and would do well to remember to include Him in every single decision, even the every day seemingly small things. I just missed it the other day. :frowning:
I do believe we are to be led today by His Peace. That’s how we get our answers…peace or the lack thereof when it’s disrupted.

I sure hope my writing helps to convey what’s in my spirit.
Thanks Jimmy!