The Binding of God: Genesis 22 as a Test Case for Open Theism in the O.T. (part 6)

"Twelve Leaves" symbol of Hellenism. Created by Nyo

In what follows, you will read an “academic paper” in which I explore some elements of open theism (the link is to a brief introduction to open theism).  This is a view of God’s foreknowledge that is controversial, but still in the evangelical family of belief.  The most well known Christian leader who holds to this view is Greg Boyd.  This will be a nine part series.


Analytical Synthesis of Theological Findings

It has been demonstrated that Genesis 22 provides test case for the way in which God makes himself vulnerable to a partially open future.  God finds himself in a bind in so far as he has given humanity libertarian freedom.  But if this is true, why is this not taught in our churches?

The Influence of Hellenism

Many theologians now observe that Hellenistic philosophy may be the reason that God’s foreknowledge has been assumed to be absolute, rather than conditioned by human freedom.  This is because of a view handed down to us by the Greek philosophers of God who exists outside of time, in unchanging transcendent perfection.[1] Theological categories for God such as immutability (unchanging timelessness) and impassibility (unmoved emotionally, unable to suffer) arose in an early church climate which was “shaped in an atmosphere influenced by Greek thought.”[2] In a real sense, Christian doctrine of the early centuries of church history emerged as a fusion between Hellenistic and biblical thought.  Whereas the Bible portrays God as one who responds within history to changing situations, working with humanity as they make free choices to create the future, Greek philosophy renders God as a static detached being.[3] Clark Pinnock observes of one of the early theologians:

Like Philo before him, Augustine had wedded to the biblical portrait of God certain Greek presuppositions about divine perfection, notably God’s immutability.  This made it impossible for Augustine to think of God’s learning anything he had not eternally known or changing in response to new circumstances.  He thought of God as existing beyond the realm of change and time, and knowing all things past, present and future in a timeless present.  However, if history is infallibly known and certain from all eternity, then freedom is an illusion.[4]

With a past that filtered theology through a Hellenistic grid, it is easy to understand why our proposed reading of Genesis 22 seems a bit innovative.  But the portrait of God bequeathed to us in the Scriptures is the one that should take precedence over abstract theological categorization.  Old Testament Scholar, Elmer Martens, shares Pinnock’s concern and applies it to systematic theology.  In this way of organizing the Bible, the tendency is to “customarily describe God by his attributes.”  Although Martens does not share as strong of a critique of this methodology, he rightly points out that such abstraction, when applied to how we understand God, can lead to the assumption that he is “a collection of good and great qualities.”[5] The Bible more often speaks of God in concrete roles such as king, shepherd, or judge.[6]

[1]. Clark H. Pinnock, Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2001), 65-68.

[2]. Ibid., 68.

[3]. Ibid., 68-70.

[4]. Clark H. Pinnock et al., Predestination & Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty & Human Freedom (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 150.

[5]. Martens, God’s Design: A Focus on Old Testament Theology, 40.

[6]. Ibid.

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  • Jeff K. Clarke

    Clark was a friend and mentor of mine for over a decade. I had the privilege is being his student during graduate studies and later working with him at the college where he taught. A very loving and gracious man.

    You may also be interested in David Lamb’s chapter in his book God Behaving Badly that deals specifically with God’s changability; a crucial topic within open theism. Highly recommended and in favor of mutability.

    The adoption of Greek philosophy is but one of the reasons why we should never blindly accept early creedal formulas and related teaching. Why thy can serve as a guide, carte Blanche accecptance could lead to the embrace of a picture of God that is misinformed and outside the revelation we see in scripture.

    Cudos for taking on this subject.


  • Ian

    However, if history is infallibly known and certain from all eternity, then freedom is an illusion.
    This is the part that still doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I don’t see how knowing the future means that you must have influenced everyone’s choices to make that future. My version of foreknowledge is that God has observed the future but is not responsible for everything that has happened in it.

    • Dan Martin

      Ian, I’d respond by saying that the fact of “knowing” the future doesn’t necessarily have to mean that you have caused it…but it *does* mean that the future is, in fact, knowable.  That which can be known, must be settled, for only to the extent that it *is* settled does it exist as a known quantity.

      In other words and more simply, if it is known by anyone–God included–that you will do a thing, then there is no possibility that you will NOT do that thing…and therefore, any freedom you might think you have to do or not do it is, in fact, illusory.

      The issue of whether it is God who caused a thing to be settled is a different question, but most people who explore this stuff would have a problem with there being another ultimate cause who is not subject in some way to God.  Therefore, those who believe (as I think most of us do) in a sovereign God, believe that anything that IS a settled fact is so settled because God sovereignly settled it.

      But as I keep harping, a sovereign God still has the sovereign authority to delegate choices to his creatures.  If they are true choices, then the moment he opens the possibility of choice, he releases his ability to foreknow the outcome with certainty.  The authority to choose is still granted by God.

      • Ian

        “In other words and more simply, if it is known by anyone–God included–that you will do a thing, then there is no possibility that you will NOT do that thing…and therefore, any freedom you might think you have to do or not do it is, in fact, illusory.”
        Perhaps we should think of it this way. History is all the events of all existing beings and things and their interactions. God is one of the beings that is having a part in how that history is playing out. God doesn’t settle the future before we get there. He just observes our choices from outside of time. He’s not observing them from inside the timeline. I don’t think  we exist inside time that we can think of and understand just how that might affect things. I always imagine God sitting in a room with TV’s around him showing whats happening in every moment from history. Of course I know that’s probably not even close to what it’s actually like. I know this doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, but if someone exists outside of time, our human brains can’t really wrap themselves around that.

        But I haven’t totally dismissed open theism yet. Still waiting for part 9. I’m going to be very cautious about considering it and I’m praying and meditating about it and I won’t jump into if it means that I might be assuming something about God that isn’t true. So I’ll need to be convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt.

        • BobFreeman

           “I know this doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, but if someone exists outside of time, our human brains can’t really wrap themselves around that. “”

          Ian, I believe this is exactly the picture of God.  Someone who exists outside of time and space.  Time and space limit our everyday choices in life.  Time to get up, time to eat, time to get to the doctor, time to go to church, time to live and time to die. We either have space (spatial or temporal) for the things presented to us in life or we do not have space.  

          But I see God as completely different.  He is not limited by space or time. Scripture says he lives and we are made in his image. So I must believe that God has choices and that he is stoic . He hears our prayers and he acts on them. We’ve all heard the cliche ‘PRAYER CHANGES THINGS”.  But how could this be if God does not interact with us and with the choices we make in life? If prayer does not change things and all things are already decided for eternity then why even pray?  A simple thanks to God would do !

          For many years I struggled with the same question you have, relating to existence outside of time.  You’re right.  It’s not easy for our minds to wrap themselves around the concept of existence outside of time. But I finally did that and it makes the learning all the more sweeter.

          • Bob Freeman

            oops.  Meant to say God is not stoic.

    • ddfskip

      since God created everything that we are, then it only stands to reason without TRUE free-will we will do all that we were created to do….so all thoughts, decisions, and actions that we have were simply created by God(Robots so to speak)….the only way we have decisions and thoughts of our own is if God dynamically interacts with us, otherwise as stated freedom is just an illusion