Objections to Open Theism

As I’ve said before, objections to Open Theism don’t come from Scripture. Typically classical theists ignore the Scripture used by open theists and argue in other ways. So while I consider those other ways less important, they aren’t completely invalid, and I will address some of the most common objections here: why is it such a minority view in church history? why don’t we accept the idea that God changing his mind or emotions is simply anthropomorphic poetry? why do we think God can’t know future free actions? and the biggest one, is this not limiting God?

Church History

Some object to open theism on the basis of it being a minority view throughout history. That is very true, although there have been some theologians who have defended it. The first response from the Protestant view is that even if they do disagree, Scripture always trumps church tradition. If it is as clear in Scripture as I argued it is in my post on the biblical arguments for open theism, then church history is secondary. But another interesting thing to note is that classical theism has never been a part of any major creed of the church. Although the majority of theologians believed it, it has never been an official position of the church, so even for those traditions that hold the early councils as authoritative, there is no conflict.

Anthropomorphic Poetry

Why do open theists not accept the classical theist interpretation of texts that demonstrate the openness or emotions of God as simply being anthropomorphic? Maybe all of these texts are just ways to help us understand God, in which case, so what if he technically lied by saying he changed his mind? There are a few responses that mainly deal with the assumptions of this question.

Firstly from a philosophical perspective, why do we assume that the ability to change our minds is anthropomorphic? There is nothing Scriptural to suggest that God can never change his mind. There is Platonic philosophy that suggests that God can never change his mind.

Secondly from a literary perspective, the anthropomorphic texts are usually pretty obvious, using physical analogies like being a husband or having wings. The texts are written in just as much of a literal style as the texts about some things in the future being settled, usually within the historical narrative sections of Scripture. The only reason we assume they are poetic is because we assume that they can’t be true – after all, Plato told us so.

There is a third practical reason as well. If we believe that the Bible is inspired, then what do the texts about God changing his mind in response to prayer tell us if not that God can change his mind in response to prayer? There is nothing revealed in these texts – they are simply wrong. This is different from the anthropomorphism of God with an outstretched hand which tells us he is reaching toward us.

The Nature of the Future

Why don’t open theists think God can foreknow future free actions? The first obvious answer again is that Scripture repeatedly reinforces that he can’t. If we want to get philosophical on top of that, though, we can. Some argue that God can see future free actions but chooses not to because it would instantly erase the free nature of it and he wants us to have freedom. Others, myself included, argue that God cannot see future free actions because that would be a logical contradiction. It is not a limit on God’s power to say that God can’t see a truth that doesn’t exist. It is the same idea as asking whether God can create a rock so heavy that he can’t lift it. It is a pointless question because there is no such thing as a rock so heavy that God can’t lift it. Similarly, there is no such thing as a settled future free action. By definition of a free action there is possibility, or else it wouldn’t be free. So we can say that God sees those possibilities but the nature of freedom requires that there is some element of uncertainty involved.

Limiting God

This is the big one in my opinion: does open theism limit God? Are we not saying that God is not powerful enough to know the future, or not wise enough? For the first, see the previous question. It is not a question of whether God is powerful enough to know a future that already exists in a settled form. It is a question of whether the future exists in a settled form. Based on Scripture as well as other secondary arguments, we believe the future is a realm of possibilities. Therefore God in his total power knows the total realm of possibilities, which is everything there is to know.

As to whether it reduces God’s wisdom, I’ll borrow another analogy from Greg Boyd. Suppose God is a chess master. The Calvinist view says that God will win every game because he is controlling the moves of his opponent. The Arminian view says that God will win every game because he foreknows every move of his opponent, even though he isn’t strictly speaking controlling them. The Open Theist view says that God will win every game despite not knowing every move of his opponent. The Open Theist view therefore has a higher view of God’s wisdom, not lower, because he can allow us freedom and still be guaranteed to win every time. He is so wise that he doesn’t need to control us or even to know precisely what we’ll do.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.