Why I’m Not An Open Theist
Open Theism is a view that says that God does not have foreknowledge. Open Theists will argue that God has perfect knowledge of the past and the present, but not the future. God knows everything there is to know about the past and the present (e.g he knows what every human being has done, said, and thought from the time of Adam and Eve to right now) but they’ll say that He doesn’t know what we will do in the future. I honestly don’t see how anyone can read scripture and conclude that God doesn’t know the future. Here are reasons why I reject Open Theism.
It Makes No Sense Of Biblical Prophesy
Throughout the Old and New Testaments, we see God speaking through prophets; people whom He had chosen to be His messengers to His people. Often times they predict the future. For example, many predictions were made about the messiah, what the messiah would do, what he would be like. Micah 5:2 foretells that the messiah would be born in Bethlehem. When you read the gospel of Matthew or the gospel of Luke, lo and behold, Jesus was born in Bethlehem! Several descriptions of Jesus’ crucifixion are foretold in Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. How could God know all of this unless He had foreknowledge? How could He even know that crucifixion would be the means by which the messiah would die since Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 were written long before crucifixion was even invented as a means of execution? How could He know that He would be born in Bethlehem?
True, some prophesies God could know without foreknowledge since He brought them about. For example, He could accurately predict the prophesy of Isaiah 9:6 since God knew that He was going to become incarnate (see John 1:1-14). God knew that He Himself was going to be the messiah, so He could certainly inspire Isaiah to say that the messiah would be “wonderful councilor, mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace.”. However, prophesies about his place of birth, His death, and several others couldn’t be known by God since these are the results of the actions of free agents.
Moreover, Matthew 24 and the book of Revelation go into great detail of what the end times will be like. How could God know all of this stuff if He doesn’t have foreknowledge? Notice this: God is always right! He is never wrong! Whenever He gives a prophesy, it always comes to pass just as He said. I can’t think of a single time when one of God’s prophets predicted something and it turned out to be inaccurate.
How marvelous this is that God could be right about future events so often…given that He doesn’t know the future! Open Theism reduces prophesy to extremely lucky guesses on God’s part. He just makes guesses about the future and they always come to pass! I think it’s far more plausible to believe that the reason God can foretell of future events and never be wrong is because He actually knows what’s going to happen.
Several Passages Of Scripture Explicitly State That God Knows The Future
Aside from divine foreknowledge being implicit in the various prophesies foretold and fulfilled in scripture, there are several places in scripture that come right out and say that God knows the future.
“You have searched me, Lord, 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. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.” – Psalm 139:1-4
This passage is one of many places that teaches that God is omniscient. David, under the inspiration of The Holy Spirit, said that God knew whenever he would sit down and get up, and that God even knew his very thoughts! David, under the inspiration of The Holy Spirit, then said that God was familiar with all of his ways. In other words, whatever David does, God knows about it. Then the passage says “Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely”. God knows what we’re going to say even before we say it! I don’t know about you, but this sounds like foreknowledge to me.
Or again, in Jesus’ sermon on the mount, Jesus said "And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him." - Matthew 6:7-8
Jesus said that God knows what we need even before we ask Him. Does that sound like foreknowledge to you? It does to me.
But if God Has Foreknowledge, how can human beings be free? For if God knows that you will choose Mac N Cheese for lunch tomorrow, then you will choose to eat Mac N Cheese tomorrow. But what if you choose something else to eat? That would mean God would be wrong.
This objection argues that God’s foreknowledge somehow causally determines future events. This is a view known as fatalism. One thing open theists and Calvinists agree on is that if God knows the future, then everything that occurs had to occur. If it were different, then God’s knowledge would be wrong. But if God were or could be wrong, he wouldn’t be perfect. He would not be a Maximally Great Being. Therefore, Calvinists deny that human beings have free will while Open Theists deny that God has foreknowledge. Both believe you can either have foreknowledge or free will, but not both. So in the name of free will, open theists deny that God knows the future.
The argument for fatalism is sometimes cast in the form of a syllogism
1: Necessarily, if God foreknows X, then X will happen.
2: God foreknows X.
3: Therefore, necessarily, X will happen.
This seems to be a good argument doesn’t it? After all, both premises are true (or at least I think they are). The reason I don’t believe the conclusion despite believing both premises is that the argument is a non sequitur. The conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises. This syllogism commits what’s called a “modal fallacy”. All that follows from the premises is that “X will happen” but not that “X will necessarily happen” X could be different, and if it were different, then God’s foreknowledge would be different.
For example, what if X is what I choose to have for lunch today. I choose Mac N Cheese instead of Vegetable Soul. Now, God knows that I will choose Mac N Cheese, and therefore I will choose Mac N Cheese. But what I decided to eat vegetable soup instead. Was God’s foreknowledge incorrect? No. For if I chose to eat vegetable soup instead of Mac N Cheese, then God would not have foreknown “Evan will eat Mac N Cheese”. Gods would know INSTEAD “Evan will eat vegetable soup".
If I choose to eat Mac N Cheese, God would foreknow “Evan will eat Mac N Cheese”. But if I choose to eat vegetable soup instead, God would foreknow “Evan will eat vegetable soup”. You see, just because God knows what people are going to do in advance doesn’t mean people aren’t free. My knowing that the sun will rise tomorrow doesn’t mean that I’m causing the sun to rise. Likewise God knowing the future doesn’t mean that the future is fated to occur.
While God’s foreknowledge is chronologically prior to our choices, our choices are logically prior to God’s knowing them. God’s knowledge of free choices are contingent facts which could very well be different, and if they were to be different than God’s knowledge would be different.
By the way, the same holds true for God’s middle knowledge (just in case there are any Arminians are reading this who think that Molinism is deterministic), since middle knowledge is just a multifaceted foreknowledge.
Therefore, one need not deny middle knowledge or even simple foreknowledge in order to believe that humans are genuinely free.
What About Scriptures Indicating God’s Ignorance?
When arguing for Open Theism, open theists will often appeal to Scripture passages which describe God “changing His mind” or “being surprised” or “seeming to gain knowledge” (e.g Genesis 6:6; Exodus 32:14; Jonah 3:10). In light of the many other Scriptures that declare God's knowledge of the future, these Scriptures should be understood as God describing Himself in ways that we can understand. When God says He “changed his mind”, that should be taken as anthropomorphic just as scriptures that talk about God’s “hands” and “eyes” and “ears”. God knows what our actions and decisions will be, but He “changes His mind” in regard to His actions based on our actions. In the case of Genesis 6:6, God’s disappointment at the wickedness of humanity does not mean He was not aware it would occur. God saying that he regretted ever making man is just a lament on God’s part because the evil in the world makes Him sad and angry.
In the case of the Jonah story, for example, I don’t think God didn’t know that Ninevah would repent and therefore He literally changed his mind about judging them. I don’t think God was like “Oh! You guys repented! Okay then, I guess I won’t destroy you after all.” His intention all along was to judge them on the condition that they didn’t repent, and His intention all along was to spare them on the condition of their repentance. God would do one or the other depending on what Ninevah decided to do.
Moreover, Jonah’s preaching actually is what brought about their repentance. It’s interesting that God not only knew that Ninevah was going to repent, but He knew the means to get them to do it. God appears to have known “If my prophet Jonah preaches to Ninevah, they would repent” and he also knew “If I tell Jonah to preach to Ninevah, He would flee to Tarshish” and “If I cause a storm to rage where Jonah is on a ship, he would conclude that I’m doing it because he disobeyed me” and “If I cause that storm to rage, the other people on the ship with him would throw him overboard” and “If they throw him overboard, Jonah would get eaten by a whale” and “If Jonah gets eaten by a whale, he would change his mind about preaching to Ninevah” and “If Jonah changes his mind about preaching to Ninevah, he would choose to preach to Ninevah” and “If Jonah preaches to Ninevah, telling them that I will destroy Ninevah if they don't repent, the people of Ninevah would repent and I would spare them”.
So God told Jonah to preach to Ninevah, and the dominos fell just like God knew they would.
For me, the Jonah narrative isn’t disconfirmatory of divine foreknowledge, but actually amplifies it by showing that he not only does He know the future, but He knows counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (i.e middle knowledge). I think the book of Jonah shows a middle knowledge view of providence. God was able to achieve his ends without violating anyone’s freedom.
There are other scriptures Open Theists have used to support their position, but space doesn’t permit me to exegete all of them. However, CARM (Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry) does have a library of articles where they address the open theistic interpretation of these passages. Click here to check it out.
Open Theism is contradicted by an overwhelming number of scriptures both implicitly and explicitly, and the proof texts they use to support their view are unconvincing.