I think we’re making some progress in understanding why Open Theism is wrong in its assessment of what God knows and when He knows it.
One of the first things I attempt to do when talking with people who have different views of Scripture than I do is find a point of agreement. I think we found that in the last part of our series.
Dr. John Sanders is a long-time leader in the Open Theism movement. He co-wrote the seminal book on Open Theism, The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God, with Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, David Basinger and William Hasker in 1994. He also wrote The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence in 1998 and Does God have a Future? A Debate on Divine Providence with Chris Hall in 2003. Sanders came very close to being voted out of the prestigious Evangelical Theological Society in 2003 because of his views and promotion of Open Theism.
So, where did I find agreement with Dr. Sanders? Sanders presented a paper that included a section titled: “Two dominant models of God in America: Nurturant God and Authoritative God.” After presenting his thoughts about the Nurturant God and the Authoritative God, Sanders wrote this: “The openness of God model coheres with Nurturant model.”
I developed the idea of the Nature/Nurture of God being the primary issue with Open Theists before reading Sanders comment, so I was delighted to find a point of agreement with Sanders and with the Open Theism movement. This could be a starting point with someone who is an Open Theist or who is researching Open Theism as a possible view of God.
The Nature of God First
The Nature of God must be first in our understanding of God. His Nature is eternal and unchanging. His Nurture to His creatures who are in a “fallen” condition is temporary .. meaning that it had a beginning and will have an end. God’s Nurture relationship with His creatures can have the appearance of the give-and-take relationship Open Theists refer to, but that’s not because of God’s Nature. It’s because of how God nurtures His creatures. It’s how He relates to them in a way they can understand in their spiritually fallen condition.
If we look only at the Nurture of God to a fallen creation, as do the Open Theists, we will misunderstand much of what goes on in the Bible. God “nurtures” His creatures based on His “Nature.” We’ll address that in more detail as our series continues.
Sanders went on to explain Open Theism this way:
Open theism is a model of God emphasizing divine love and responsiveness to creatures. The term “open” is used in two important ways: God is open to what creatures do and the future is open in that there is more than one possible future. What we call “the” future is not an already determined blueprint of what will happen—it is not set in stone. Rather, it is like a create your own story book.
God gives freedom to humans and does not micromanage what happens. God enters into genuine give-and-receive relations with creatures. For example, God truly responds to our prayers. God responds to contingencies and adjusts divine plans, if necessary, in response to our prayers and actions. Though the divine nature does not change, God does have changing emotions, plans, and actions. Also, because God chooses to elicit our free collaboration in divine plans God takes risks that we will act in ways contrary to the divine intentions.
The model arises out of theological traditions that affirm human freewill but modifies them on two key points. First, open theism holds that God is temporal and everlasting rather than timeless (atemporal). Second, because the future exists as possibilities of what might happen God possesses what is called dynamic omniscience in which God has exhaustive knowledge of the past and present and understands “the future” as what might happen. Divine omniscience is dynamic in that God constantly acquires knowledge of which possible future actions creatures select to actualize. The so-called “future” does not exist as a reality and since God knows reality as it is, the future is not known. God is not caught off-guard-since God knows the possibilities and anticipates what we will do. Open theists reject other accounts of divine knowledge such as simple foreknowledge or middle knowledge. Dr. John Sanders
Some of my disagreement with Open Theism is based on their stated positions, but the bigger disagreement is based on how they emphasize God’s Nurture over His Nature. That is putting the cart before the horse in a dangerous way.
Open Theists view God has somewhat hamstrung, meaning there are things He can’t do because He can’t know the future. Thomas Jay Oord wrote — “The future is open; it is not predetermined or fully known by God.” Oord also wrote — “Although everlasting, God experiences time in a way analogous to how creatures experience time.” Oord wrote — “God’s expectations about the future are often partly dependent upon creaturely actions” and “God takes calculated risks, because God is not all-controlling.” Those are theological statements about the Nature of God and they are all wrong. That’s a big problem and I’ll do my best to prove it in this series.
Dr. John Sanders, another long-time leader in Open Theism, wrote that “God entrusts responsibility to us and does not know for sure what we will do with this responsibility.” Sanders also wrote that “God entrusts responsibility to us and thus has faith in us.” And, final point, Sanders wrote that “God creates without assurance that things will go exactly as desired. God embarks on a mission with others to whom God grants amazing freedom which entails that there is no guarantee that all will go as God wanted.” Again, a leader in Open Theism leads with God as “cosmic nurturer” rather than being “cosmic Creator” based on His eternal Nature.
We addressed God’s nature in the first part of our series from His encounter with Moses at the burning bush. We move now to many more revelations of who God is from His Word concerning His Essence and Attributes.
- God is Self-Existent
- God is Self-Aware .. He is Self-Conscious
- God is Self-Sufficient .. He doesn’t need anything outside of Himself
- God is Eternal and Infinite
- God is Spirit .. Immaterial and Incorporeal
- God is Invisible
- God is Alive
- God is Active
- God is Sovereign
- God is All-Powerful
- God is All-Knowing .. He knows everything past, present, future, and possible as well as actual
- God is Wise
- God is Everywhere Present At The Same Time
- God is Unchanging
- God is Immense
- God is Transcendent
- God is a One and Triune .. Unity and Trinity: Three Persons in One Being .. God the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit, Co-Equal Members of the God-Head .. God is Undivided and Indivisible ..
- God is Creator .. He is Creator of Everything
- God is Sustainer .. He is Sustainer of Everything
- God is Judge .. He Judges All Things
This revelation of God tells us a lot about the Nature of God, but not everything. Theologians call these part of the Non-Moral Attributes of God. The list above has no relation to morality, but fortunately for us there is much more to God’s Nature. He has also revealed His Moral Attributes. Here are some of them:
- God is Perfect .. He is Perfect in All of His Ways
- God is Holy .. He is Holy in All of His Ways
- God is Love .. He is Bounding in Perfect Love
- God is Truth .. He is the Source of All Truth and His Ways Conform to Reality
- God is Faithful
- God is Trustworthy
- God is Glorious
- God is Praise-Worthy .. He is Worthy of All Praise
- God is Righteous and Just
- God is Good
- God is Generous .. He is Benevolent
- God is Kind
- God is Gracious
- God is Merciful
- God is Patient .. He is Slow to Anger
All of these are part of God’s Nature and play an important role in how God Nurtures His creatures.
What God Knew Before Time
We are not left to wonder what God knows. He knows everything. As the prophet Isaiah wrote about God — “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 end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure” (Isaiah 46:10).
God is able to declare the end from the beginning, including everything between, because He is All-Knowing. To know the end from the beginning means to know the future from the beginning. However, that’s not what Open Theists believe:
The open view of the future thus affirms that in creating the world God faces the possibility, but not the certainty, that free creatures would choose to oppose him to the extent that they have. This view thereby allows us to consistently affirm that God entered into a somewhat risky endeavor in creating the world. Greg Boyd, Open Theism: A Basic Introduction
That statement contradicts a very basic claim of the Bible that God knew exactly how His creatures would oppose Him and what He would do to save them.
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 2 Timothy 1:8-10
Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect and the acknowledgment of the truth which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began, but has in due time manifested His word through preaching, which was committed to me according to the commandment of God our Savior. Titus 1:1-3
And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. 1 Peter 1:17-21
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will. Ephesians 1:3-4
Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. John 17:24
Here we see from Jesus and His apostles that God “knew” before the foundation of the world, before time began, that the human beings He was going to create would need a Savior, and that Jesus would be that Savior, and that Jesus would die for their sins by spilling His “precious blood.” All of this “was foreordained before the foundation of the world.” That means God knew the end from the beginning. In fact, God knew the end from before the beginning of time. God knew everything that was going to happen and had a plan to cover the sinfulness of humans who would respond to the Gospel in faith. Everything that has happened and will happen was “according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.”
How would God be entering into “a somewhat risky endeavor in creating the world” when everything He did was according to His purpose and grace given to us in Christ Jesus before time began? Open Theism doesn’t make sense because it is oppositional to the direct teaching of Christ and His apostles.
Here are some questions Open Theists might consider:
- Did God know that Adam would die when He warned him about death in the Garden of Eden? Yes, He did — before time began.
- Did God know that Satan would enter into the Garden of Eden and tempt Adam and Eve before it happened? Yes, He did — before time began.
- Did God know that Adam and Eve would disobey God and die? Yes, He did — before time began.
- Did God know what He was saying to Satan in the Garden of Eden when He told him that the Seed of the woman would one day bruise Satan’s head even as Satan would bruise Jesus’ heel? Yes, He did — before time began.
- Did God know that He would drive out Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and place cherubim at the east end of the Garden with a flaming sword to guard the way to the tree of life? Yes, He did — before time began.
- Did God know that Cain would kill his brother Abel? Yes, He did — before time began.
- Did God know that He would destroy the world with a Flood while saving one family in an Ark? Yes, He did — before time began.
- Did God know that Noah’s descendants would attempt to build a tower into the heavens and that He would scatter the families of man across the world? Yes, He did — before time began.
- Did God know that He would choose a man named Abram to journey hundreds of miles from his homeland to become the father of many nations? Yes, He did — before time began.
- Did God know that Abraham’s son Isaac and Isaac’s son Jacob and Jacob’s son Judah would carry the Seed of God’s promise. Yes, He did — before time began.
- Did God know that Joseph’s brothers would sell him into slavery and that would lead Jacob and his family to move from Canaan to Egypt? Yes, He did — before time began.
- Did God know that He would free Israel from slavery through Moses? Yes, He did — before time began.
- Did God know that Joshua would lead Israel into the Promised Land instead of Moses? Yes, He did — before time began.
- Did God know that Israel would disobey Him in the Promised Land and serve other gods for hundreds of years? Yes, He did — before time began.
- Did God know that Saul would be king, followed by David, followed by Solomon? Yes, He did — before time began.
- Did God know that Israel would break into two kingdoms? Yes, He did — before time began.
- Did God know the Assyrians and Babylonians would bring those two kingdoms to an end? Yes, He did — before time began.
- Did God know what Daniel and Ezekiel would do during they captivity? Yes, He did — before time began.
- Did God know that Babylon would allow the Hebrew captives to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and the temple? Yes, He did — before time began.
- Did God know that Jesus would die on a Roman cross and shed His blood for the salvation of human souls? Yes, He did — before time began.
We could continue asking questions about every aspect of what we read in the Bible and the answer would always be the same. Yes, He did — before time began. Everything that has happened and will happen is according to God’s purpose and grace “which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.”
All of this is based on God’s Nature. He knows everything from the beginning and before. He is All-Knowing. He knows the future and we can trust what He has told us because we understand His purpose and grace.
In the next part of our special series, Open Theism: God In A Box, we’ll look at how Open Theism has caused a dangerous confusion among Christians. Are Open Theists confused or something worse?
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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