By default, an acceptance of Open Theology requires the believer to accept a concept of time where the future does not yet exist. This means that “open theists must reject the view of time that is held by the majority of physicists and that held by many philosophers of time, namely, the B-theory (also “static” or “tenseless” time)” (Cuthbertson, 2005, p. 78). This theory of time holds that there is “no ontological difference between the past, present, and future [and] that the temporal change we all experience is relegated to a psychological anomaly” (Cuthbertson, 2005, p. 78). The B-theory of time stands opposed to the A-theory, which posits that temporal changes are real, and Presentism that suggests the past has ceased to exist and the future has yet to exist – leaving only the present (Cuthbertson, 2005, p. 78).
At the present time there may be no way of knowing which of these theories of time is the most accurate, however, I would suggest that the B-theory of time seems the most Biblical. Consider this, as temporal beings mankind can only remember the past, experience the present, and anticipate the future. God, however, is atemporal as He exists outside the boundaries of time. It is hard for temporal beings to imagine, but the Bible declares that God fills Heaven and earth (Jeremiah 23:24). God is omnipresent. He is everywhere. If the B-theory of time is correct, this means that God exists in the past, present, and future alike with no respect to the passage of time. This would explain how God can boldly exclaim how His plans will unfold in the future. It is a vision of God that is both Biblical and awesome in power. Open Theology’s vision of God simply does not account for His work in the past, present, and future.
Cuthbertson, M. R. (2005). Time, the “open acquittal,” and divine omniscience: Two internal problems with open theism. Westminster Theological Journal, 67, 75-83.
Orthodox Christianity identifies God as immutable and consistently unchanging. This image of God is drawn from the Bible itself. Many Scriptures assert God’s immutability. Among them is Malachi 3:6, “For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed” (NASB). Harold C. Felder writes, “Even God’s very name “I AM” implies that He does not change” (2011). This traditional view of God allowed A.W. Tozer to write, “God will not compromise and He need not be coaxed. He cannot be persuaded to alter His Word nor talked into answering selfish prayer” (1961, p. 60). In traditional Christianity, an omniscient God knows what believers will pray before they even pray it. According to Romans 8:26, the Holy Spirit rescues believers when they are too weak to know what to pray and “intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (NASB). Open Theology shifts the emphasis in prayer from God to man.
Because the future is open, mankind has genuine freewill, and God has a limited knowledge of future events; Open Theology calls into question God’s immutability. In Open Theology, God responds to prayers often by changing His mind. Open Theology suggests that God’s limited knowledge of the future causes Him to genuinely interact with the prayers of believers in a way that emphasizes His relationship with them. Greg Boyd suggests, “this translates into people who are more inclined to pray with passion and urgency” (2000, p. 95). Boyd’s argument seems ironic when one considers that Open Theology endorses a vision of God that doesn’t know the future. In traditional Christianity, believers interact with a God that intimately knows the prayers of His creation coupled with a perfect knowledge of the past, present, and future. The awesomeness of this knowledge alone should be enough to inspire the believer to pray.
Note: This is the third installment in my series examining Open Theology. To get caught up, read: Part 1: What is Open Theology? and Part 2: Scripture and God’s Knowledge of the Future.
The problem of suffering in the world is one that consistently plagues theologians. If God loves His creation, why does He allow them to endure the pain and suffering that we witness on planet earth every day? Open Theology argues that because the future is free and open, God does not have foreknowledge of suffering. This serves two purposes. First, it absolves God of any responsibility for the suffering in the world. Obviously, God would prevent suffering if it was in His power to do so, but because His creation is free to act in ways contrary to God’s desires, unexpected suffering and evil is often the result. Secondly, because Open Theology primarily revolves around God’s relationship with mankind, we can rest assured that He grieves along with us when we suffer. According to Open Theology, God is just as shocked and dismayed by unexpected suffering as we are. In Open Theology, suffering often has no point. John Sanders writes, “Thus God does not have a specific divine purpose for each and every occurrence of evil … the Holocaust is pointless evil. The rape and dismemberment of a young girl is pointless evil. The accident that caused the death of my brother was a tragedy. God does not have a specific purpose in mind for these occurrences” (Sanders, 1998, p. 261-262). In regards to the evil and suffering in the world, Open Theology argues that God does not ordain suffering, has no divine purpose for suffering, and often has no knowledge when suffering will occur.
On a superficial level, Open Theology’s view of suffering may give His creation comfort. After all, once a person realizes that God is not responsible for the suffering they have experienced they are free to, once again, put their trust in the Divine. However, if our God is one who cannot predict when tragedy will fall upon us and has no greater purpose for that suffering, why exactly do we trust Him? Much better is the God depicted in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (NASB). Romans chapter 8 depicts God as one who causes all things, good and bad, to work together to accomplish His will. Bruce Ware writes that the “counsel [offered] by open theists strips from Christians the very hope and confidence in God that Scripture intends them to have” (Ware, 2003, p. 71). Much better is the God who is control of suffering and uses it for a greater purpose than the god who is no control whatsoever. In opposition to Open Theology, the Bible teaches Christians who endure suffering should, “Consider it all joy … knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3, NASB). There is comfort in the orthodox belief that in His divine wisdom God allows suffering and trials because it serves His greater plans. This comfort is simply not present in Open Theology, which suggests that God is not at work in our pain.
Title: Their God is Too Small: Open Theism and the Undermining of Confidence in God
Author: Bruce Ware
Completed on January 25, 2012
This short book by Bruce Ware is easily read in a day and is a wonderful primer on the topic of Open Theism. Ware expertly examines the arguments of the Open Theist and then tears them down in an expert and expedient fashion. As the title of this book suggests, Ware argues that God, as seen through the lens of Open Theism, is too small to be the God of the Bible. Inevitably, if one buys Open Theism, their confidence in God will eventually be eroded.
This is an excellent book for anyone who wants to learn more about Open Theism or the God of the Bible. I would recommend that the reader check out some articles or websites written by Open Theists prior to reading this book so they can enter into is more informed. Ware approaches the subject using Scripture and common sense to refute Open Theology. Having read other of his books, I have come to respect Ware’s knowledge of Scripture. I highly recommend this book.
A cursory examination of Scripture seems to lend credence to Open Theology. For the purposes of this post one such passage, Jeremiah 19:4-6, will be examined:
4 Because they have forsaken Me and have made this an alien place and have burned sacrifices in it to other gods, that neither they nor their forefathers nor the kings of Judah had ever known, and because they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent 5 and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, a thing which I never commanded or spoke of, nor did it ever enter My mind; 6 therefore, behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when this place will no longer be called Topheth or the valley of Ben-hinnom, but rather the valley of Slaughter (NASB, emphasis added).
In this often cited passage, proponents of Open Theology claim that God exhibits surprise concerning the actions of the Israelites. While God certainly recognized that, in their free will, the Israelites might do something contrary to His desires, it never entered His mind that they may do something as evil and wicked as sacrificing innocent lives to other Gods. As a result, God responds to their behavior by changing the name of Topeth to the valley of Slaughter. It must be conceded that when taken by itself, a reading of the above passage does seem to suggest that God can be taken by surprise when His creation takes advantage of their freewill. Furthermore, it seems to suggest that God is reactive rather than proactive in response to our actions. However, I believe Open Theology fails to place passages such as Jeremiah 19:4-6 within proper context.
The overall scheme of Scripture presents a God who is omniscient and immutable. Furthermore the prevalence given to prophecy throughout the Bible suggests that God has a precise and accurate knowledge of future events. Passages such as Jeremiah 19:4-6 seem to contradict this big picture. This problem of interpretation is caused by the fact that the Bible is both human and divine at the same time. Scholars Fee and Stuart suggest, “it is this dual nature of the Bible that demands of us the task of interpretation” (Fee & Stuart, 2003, p. 21). The Bible is the divine message of God written to us in human language. As such, it often becomes necessary for God to reveal Himself in human terms. As such, passages such as Jeremiah 19:4-6 are traditionally understood as anthropomorphic. In other words, Biblical writers are attributing human qualities to God so that readers may understand His message. An understanding of anthropomorphism is essential to satisfy the tension between passages such as Jeremiah 19:4-6 and John 13:19 where Christ tells His disciples that He is revealing the future to them so that they may have confidence that He is God. In fact, if the student of the Bible ignores anthropomorphism to satisfy a belief in Open Theology, he will inevitably be forced to compromise a multitude of passages that stand in stark contrast. For instance, the moment God declares in the Garden of Eden that Christ will crush Satan under His heel (Genesis 3:15) believers are invited to have confidence in His plan for our future. To consider that God is basing His plan on anything other than a concrete knowledge of future events is unthinkably frightening.
This post is the first in a series that examines Open Theology. My hope is to examine the subject in a tone that is productive and amicable.
What is Open Theology?
David Woodruff defines Open Theology as “a form of relational theology” that starts “with the belief that God desires to be in a relationship with creation, and uses that belief as a basis for interpretation and explanation of other aspects of the divine nature” (Woodruff, 2008, p. 53). It is in light of this desire for relationship with His creation that Open Theists believe that God voluntarily self-limits His sovereign control over mankind and grants mankind genuine freedom of will. As a result of the freewill God’s creation possesses, Open Theology posits that while God has a perfect knowledge of the past and the present, His knowledge of the future is limited. God’s limitations in regards to future-knowledge is not attributed to any weakness of His own; rather, it is impossible for God to know the future because “the future free acts of human beings are not yet reality [because they have not yet happened] and, therefore, cannot be known” (Pinnock, 2005, p. 238). Thus, Open Theology concludes that while God’s knowledge of the future is limited, it is still perfect because He knows everything about the future that can be known. Even though God knows as much as can be known, the future is still open as a result of freewill. According to Open Theology, mankind’s freewill and God’s limited knowledge of the future work together to create a relationship between Creator and creation that is real and genuine. It is a relationship that mirrors all others and includes risk and faith on the part of Deity and man.
Open Theology is an attempt to make sense of Scriptures that seem to suggest that the God of the Bible does not have an exhaustive knowledge of the future. As a system, Open Theology offers the believer a lens through which to understand why there is so much evil in the world and the impact of Christian prayer. Additionally, Open Theology makes certain assumptions concerning the nature of time. Future posts in this series will offer an examination of Open Theology as it relates to each of these issues.
Pinnock, C. H. (2005). Open theism: An answer to my critics. Dialog: A Journal of Theology, 44:3, 237-245.
Woodruff, D. M. (2008). Examining problems and assumptions: An update on criticisms of open theism. Dialog: A Journal of Theology, 47:1, 53-63.