Why open theism doesn't even matter (very much)

Why open theism doesn't even matter (very much) August 25, 2010

A couple days ago I wrote here about the controversy over open theism among evangelicals.  I regard it as a sad episode riddled with misinformation, misrepresentation and even, too often, outright demagoguery. 

The tenor of the controversy is one thing; the truth status of open theism is another thing.  I was writing then primarily about the controversy.  I believe that, for the most part, it was left unfinished.  The anti-open theists, mostly Calvinists, won the day insofar as they persuaded (often, I am convinced, through misrepresentation) evangelical leaders such as administrators of institutions of higher learning to shun open theists.

One reason I am convinced the discussion about open theism should continue (in a different way) is that I know many “closet open theists” and open theists who “changed their minds” in order to secure or keep their positions in evangelical organizations.  This is unfortunate; a position so widely held by biblically committed evangelical men and women should be open to lengthy, detailed, careful examination through dialogue and debate and not anathematized without that. 

One example of what I’m referring to is the Southern Baptist Convention’s 2000 revision of the Baptist Faith and Message.  It explicitly excluded open theism, in my opinion, without a full and fair hearing of that view from open theists themselves.

One example of the lack of charitable and fair dialogue appears in a message posted here.  Many of open theism’s critics claim that it denies God’s omnipotence.  This is simply another example of the neo-fundamentalist tendency to accuse others of actually holding beliefs they do not hold because the accuser thinks those beliefs are logically entailed by other beliefs.  For example: “Open theism denies God’s omnipotence because if God does not have exhaustive foreknowledge….”  The plain fact is that open theism DOES NOT deny God’s omnipotence and to say otherwise is to come close to vicious calumny and even outright dishonesty.  It is equivalent to the claim made by some notable Calvinists that Arminianism denies the sovereignty of God.  That’s simply a bold-faced lie UNLESS the person making the claim explains that he or she means Arminianism denies the Calvinist view of the sovereignty of God.  Calvinists would feel the same way (and do) if Arminians or other non-Calvinists say that Calvinism denies the love of God without going on to explain that Calvinists claim to believe in the love of God but it is a different account of God’s love than the Arminian believes is biblical and reasonable.

Open theism is not heresy because it does affirm God’s omnipotence and even God’s omniscience.  Anyone who says otherwise needs to go back and read books by open theists such as The Openness of God (by Pinnock, Hasker, Rice, Sanders and Basinger) and The God Who Risks (by Sanders) and The God of the Possible (by Boyd). 

What is at issue is NOT God’s nature or abilities but the nature of the future.  Is it closed or is it open? 

So why do I say open theism doesn’t matter?  Because it firmly insists that God is omnipotent and omniresourceful and knows all possibilities and is fully able to respond to whatever free agents do to bring about his intended ends and purposes.  Open theism changes nothing about prayer, worship, adoration of God (who is fully glorious and whose limitations, if any, are voluntary) and even proclamation of the gospel (all open theists affirm salvation by grace through faith alone).

What galls me and makes me angry is that so many evangelicals do not seem to care that they do not fully understand open theism and go about condemning it or excluding people who hold it on the grounds that it is “controversial.”  All that means is that IF a small group of people have the ability to make something controversial they win over others.  And I personally think that’s a lot of what the controversy over open theism has been about–winning in the (unfortunate) battle for the minds of evangelical power brokers. 

Years ago one of my favorite evangelical authors, Joe Bayly, published a column in Eternity magazine entitled “Why the absolute absolutists always win.”  He pointed out way back in the 1970s that in too many controversies among evangelicals (the case he had in mind was over women’s roles in church, home and society) loud mouthed extremists tend to win by creating fear of controversy.  They move among the untutored lay people (and unfortunately too many untutored pastors!) and create fear that some view with which they disagree MIGHT be heretical and, as we all know from youth group talk illustrations, it is ALWAYS best to err on the side of safety.  Nobody ever accused Joe Bayly of being a liberal!  He was a noted conservative evangelical speaker and author.  (For those of you old like me you may remember the book and movie “The Gospel Blimb” which he wrote.) What he was, however, was a provoker (to borrow a term from one poster here).  He had a unique ability to make people think about things they take for granted.

The controversy over open theism has convinced me that American evangelicalism has not yet come of age sufficiently to be able to handle a controversy such as that over open theism in a mature, fair, even-handed manner.  Rather, in my opinion, it was largely conducted in a mean-spirit manner too often intended to keep fellow evangelicals from getting a fair hearing.

I could cite many specific examples, but one comes especially clearly to mind.  My colleague who was under seige asked a well-known conservative evangelical theologian who was speaking against open theism in constituent churches to meet with him to clear up some misconceptions about open theism.  These two gentlemen (I use the word loosely of one of them!) lived and worked in close proximity.  The conservative evangelical theologian refused.  My respect for him has never recovered.  The conservative evangelical theologian continued to go around to constituent churches strongly implying that open theism is a version of process theology or at least of the old “Boston personalism” school of liberal Protestant theology that taught that God is essentially finite (Edgar Sheffield Brightman, Borden Parker Bowne and others whose writings were popular and influential in the early part of the 20th century before process theology largely replaced it).

In fact, if I ever become an open theist, nothing will change in the way I pray or worship or witness or try to glorify God in all that I do.  Simply put, open theism doesn’t matter to being evangelical.  If anything, it might, as open theists themselves argue, serve to revitalize many people’s interest in and commitment to spiritual warfare (as Greg Boyd has tirelessly argued).

"That would be a "different gospel." The gospel includes that all good things are gifts. ..."

The American Religion: Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism ..."
"Yes, I will. Albrecht Ritschl and his "school" of liberal Protestantism. Then Washington Gladden and ..."

The American Religion: Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism ..."
"That's one Lutheran interpretation. I know Luther scholars who would say that sounds more Reformed."

The American Religion: Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism ..."
"Very interesting. I have noticed the same trend. Many churches talk much about "God" but ..."

The American Religion: Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism ..."

Browse Our Archives



TRENDING AT PATHEOS Evangelical
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I agree that Open Theism is not a determining factor for being Christian or evangelical. I would say though that it does affect one’s view of God in how He relates to time and creation. Most cosmologists today would agree that time is an aspect of creation, and the Open Theist perspective essentially denies this. Personally, that is why I reject it, though I don’t reject it as heresy.

  • Lennart Johansson

    Hi Roger,

    There are truly no words to express how grateful I am to you for addressing these issues in such a forthright manner. It is a prophetic word with significant pastoral benefits to many. I personally feel like the cloud I have been under is lifting, at least a little bit.

    You write:

    “The anti-open theists, mostly Calvinists, won the day insofar as they persuaded (often, I am convinced, through misrepresentation) evangelical leaders such as administrators of institutions of higher learning to shun open theists.”

    Unfortunately, the controversy is no longer only affecting institutions or higher learning but local churches and fellowships as well.

    In 2009 the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) adopted a revised Statement of Faith (SOF) that was specifically written to as a rejection of Open Theism.

    The words “Having limitless knowledge and sovereign power—” were included in the new SOF. The written comments in the draft revision states “This statement, though it contains eternal truth, is particularly addressed to the contemporary issue of “Open Theology.” We affirm that God can and does know the future free choices of human beings and that nothing is outside His sovereign will. Our current statement has no such affirmation. Though someone holding to “Open Theism” may be able to sign this statement, our intention in including this affirmation is to exclude that understanding as one that is both unbiblical and outside the stream of historic evangelical theology.”

    Back in 2008, as these issues was being discussed, I was a full member in good standing of Door Creek Church in Madison, Wisconsin and I just happened, by coincident, come across information on the EFCA website about the SOF revisions in progress. I should mention that previous to these development I had never spoken of Open Theism with anyone in this congregation. I never was on a mission. Nevertheless, I attempted to bring up the issues with the church leadership to point out some of the things you so eloquently have outlined in these post. Despite my best efforts church representatives to the General Assembly were instructed to support the revised SOF and it passed.

    Thus, although the word “heretic” was never uttered by the EFCA or Door Creek Church the underhanded implications were clear. There’s is no longer any room for people that old the views of Open Theism in EFCA congregations. Why would I want to share life with people that hold that my beliefs are “unbiblical and outside the stream of historic evangelical theology.” ?

    What the EFCA and local congregations failed to appreciate is the fact that you can’t exclude a belief without at the same time excluding people – family members – that hold that particular belief. After having spend five years at Door Creek Church I had no choice but to say my farewells and, along with my wife and three children, resign my membership, and move on.

    Reading your posts and contemplating the past drives home the point that there are many local churches being manipulated by forces that aren’t as benevolent and “biblical” as they appear.

    As you point out the tactic is to “….move among the untutored lay people (and unfortunately too many untutored pastors!) and create fear that some view with which they disagree MIGHT be heretical…”.

    I can tell you from experience that this is working.

    Real people, real families, are being affected by this witch hunt. I think it has to stop which is why I am adding my name, city and email address to this post.

    Lennart Johansson
    johanssonlennart @ gmail.com
    Madison, Wisconsin

  • Terry Tiessen

    I pretty much agree with you, Roger, which is admittedly rather unusual for Calvinists. A significant part of my minimal concern about Open Theism is that I believe they are right that simple divine foreknowledge is of no use to God providentially. As Hasker says, by the time God knows what is going to happen, it is too late for him to do anything about it. Since Open Theists are also correct about the unknowability of counterfactuals of human freedom (the grounding objection), Molinism also has minimal advantage over Open Theism, as far as God’s providential governance is concerned.

    Having said that, I might mention that I do disagree with the Open Theists about the unknowability of the actual future, even if creatures are libertarianly free and if God is temporal (at least since his act of creation). Here I think W. L. Craig is right, that a propositional rather than foresight understanding is needed: God knows all true propositions and true propositions are essentially timeless. So, God does know what you will libertarianly free do tomorrow but there is nothing he can do now to change that or anything that will result from it. Such being the case, Calvinists have no reason for greater anxiety about Open Theism than they have about Arminianism.

    The future of Open Theism within evangelicalism depends upon the response of evangelical Arminians. That is where the reasonable conversation most needs to be going on.

    • Robert

      Hello Terry,

      I am not going to argue with your theological points here. I am a bit surprised by your closing comments however.

      You wrote:

      “The future of Open Theism within evangelicalism depends upon the response of evangelical Arminians. That is where the reasonable conversation most needs to be going on.”

      I have not seen the intense hatred towards Open Theists coming from the Arminians. Arminians have disagreed with the open theists (as well they should), but my observation and experience is that it has been the calvinists in particular who have been hostile to Open Theists. It is Calvinistic leaders such as John Piper and Bruce Ware who have “led the charge against” Open Theism. I have read about this and observed it for years.

      Dr. Olson makes reference to it and knows things that I do not know about what has happened, nor do I need to know the details.

      But it seems to me that where the “reasonable conversation most needs to be going on” is not between Arminians and Open theists but between calvinists and Open Theists. It is those who have been most hateful and most hostile that need to repent and show maturity and show genuine Christianity in action. Seems to me Terry that you are trying to put the saddle on the wrong horse here! 🙂

      Robert

      • Terry Tiessen

        Robert,

        Thanks for your comment in regard to my concluding sentence: “The future of Open Theism within evangelicalism depends upon the response of evangelical Arminians. That is where the reasonable conversation most needs to be going on.”

        I certainly agree with you that, for the good of the church, there is a great need for serious and charitable conversation between Open Theists and Calvinists. Unquestionably, that is where the rhetoric has been most strong, from both sides but particularly from concerned Calvinists.

        My comment was specifically regarding the “future of Open Theism within evangelicalism.” Given the strong animosity of important Calvinist leaders toward Open Theism, its recognition as an evangelical theological option will be threatened unless classic Arminian leaders speak in favour of its orthodoxy. I have heard and read statements from important Arminian theologians that have been very critical of Open Theism. If significant classic Arminian voices were to join the Calvinists who denounce Open Theism as heresy, that charge would be much more likely to stick than if the charge comes only from Calvinists. That is the point I was wanting to make.

        • Robert

          Hello Terry,

          “I certainly agree with you that, for the good of the church, there is a great need for serious and charitable conversation between Open Theists and Calvinists.”

          Yes, if there is a domestic dispute the primary responsibility is upon those two persons to fix their relationship, not third parties. Similarly, the calvinists have been most intolerant and hostile to open theists (and assuming the Open theists are believers), the calvinists owe them apologies and repentance for their sinful behavior towards fellow believers.

          “Unquestionably, that is where the rhetoric has been most strong, from both sides but particularly from concerned Calvinists.”

          Again, my observation has been that while Arminians disagree with open theism on the nature of foreknowledge and the future, they have not been nearly as hostile or sinful in their conduct as calvinists have been. I am concerned about open theism and convinced that it is mistaken.

          However, in my thinking being mistaken is far from being “heretical”.

          I also reserve “heretical” for being wrong in essential doctrines such as the trinity, or deity of Christ (cf. like the guys the apostle Paul names by name as denying the resurrection of Christ).

          “My comment was specifically regarding the “future of Open Theism within evangelicalism.” Given the strong animosity of important Calvinist leaders toward Open Theism, its recognition as an evangelical theological option will be threatened unless classic Arminian leaders speak in favour of its orthodoxy.”

          You bring up an interesting issue here the nature of “orthodoxy.”

          Can something be mistaken and yet be considered within “orthodoxy”?

          Or does it mean that if you are mistaken in any area you are automatically heretical?

          “I have heard and read statements from important Arminian theologians that have been very critical of Open Theism. If significant classic Arminian voices were to join the Calvinists who denounce Open Theism as heresy, that charge would be much more likely to stick than if the charge comes only from Calvinists. That is the point I was wanting to make.”

          I am a bit surprised here that you write that Arminians should “join the Calvinists who denounce Open Theism as heresy, that charge would be much more likely to stick than if the charge comes only from Calvinists.”

          That is surprising because it sounds like you view Open Theism as HERETICAL.

          I think that is a serious charge and your charge just goes to prove again that it is calvinists like yourself that are causing the hostility and division in the body of Christ.

          Allow me to share my own view on the difference between being mistaken and being heretical.

          A person is heretical if they are wrong about essential Christian doctrine (e.g. in eschatology that would be like when someone denies the resurrection of Christ from the dead).

          On the other hand, Christians can and do disagree about eschatology when it comes to their millennial views (e.g. there are premillennialists, amillennialists and postmillennialists, pretrib, mid trib, post trib, pre-wrath, etc.). Assume that the premill view is correct, that would mean that both the amills and postmills are mistaken. Are they heretical? No, because though they are in fact mistaken, they are not denying any essential Christian doctrines.

          Now switch to Arminians, Calvinists and Open Theists. I believe Arminians are correct, and so Calvinists and Open Theists are mistaken. But I would not declare either open theists or calvinists to be **heretical**.

          Or assume that calvinists were correct, I hope they would not then view open theists and Arminians as heretical!

          And yet it seems to me that calvinists go around (and you provide yet another example) claiming that open theists are heretics! And calvinists go around trying to blacklist open theists and scare others about them, and convince others that they are heretics.

          Say I was an administrator of a school and could hire anyone that I wanted for my systematic theology department. I would hire the best open theist, calvinist and Arminian that I could find to be on my faculty. The students would be exposed to different views and yet the people I would hire though differing would all hold the essential doctrines in common.

          Take Greg Boyd who has posted here as an example. From my reading of his material he is thoroughly orthodox on all the essentials (including the trinity, divinity of Christ, resurrection of Christ, etc. etc.). From reading his material he strikes me as extremely intelligent and well read in theology. He has a real heart for ministry, truly cares for the body of Christ and has produced some great material. So I agree with him on the essentials but disagree with him on open theism. I would never ever declare him to be a heretic, and yet apparently you would.

          And again if I was that hypothetical administrator, Boyd is exactly the kind of guy I would want as one of my faculty. And yet calvinists have attacked him and many times unfairly and if they were that hypothetical administrator he would have no chance of being part of the faculty. So again Terry, I don’t think it is Arminians who need to get on the ball here, it is calvinists.

          Robert

          • Terry Tiessen

            Robert,

            You misconstrued my use of “should,” which could have been translated as “were to.”

            Just for the record, I do not consider Open Theism a heresy. In fact, I was happy that Clark Pinnock, in “Most Moved Mover,” blessed my “tribe” for having treated Open Theism fairly and without animosity.

            Rest easy, brother.

    • Thanks for the (typically) balanced assessment Roger.

      In response to Terry’s post: I wholly agree with W.L. Craig that God knows all true propositions. Where I and some other Open Theists disagree with Craig concerns the assumption that propositions asserting what “will” and “will not” exhaust the field of future tensed propositions. We rather hold that propositions asserting what “might and might not” come to pass also have a truth value that an omniscient God must know. If it’s true at a given point in time that “x will” or “x will not” come to pass, it is false that “x might and might not” come to pass. Conversely, if its true at a given point of time that “x might and might not ” come to pass, it is false both that “x will” or “x will not” come to pass.

      GB

      • Terry Tiessen

        Greg,

        Having spent a few years defending a Calvinist form of middle knowledge, I have certainly been intrigued by your focus on God’s knowledge of “might” counterfactuals. (It may be worth my mentioning that in an article in WTJ last fall I retracted my affirmation of middle knowledge. In a conversation with Paul Helm, I conceded that God’s knowledge of counterfactuals is an aspect of God’s natural/necessary knowledge. I continue to view that knowledge as important to God’s ability to bring about the history of his choosing without negating the dignity of human choices. It is essential to the compatibilist framework.)

        Roger has helpfully spoken of the situatedness of human freedom, even within his classic Arminian theology. You have rightly picked up on that perspective in your own work. What I doubt, however, is that God’s knowledge of “might” counterfactuals gives him much providential advantage because of the huge number of decisions that are made in the history of any possible world. Suppose we grant that the likelihood of a libertarianly free creature’s doing A rather than B in situation X is not 100% (as soft determinists contend) but only 99.5% as Arminians who acknowledge the situatedness of human decisions might acknowledge. Then, although God can not predict that a particular creature would do A in situation X, he does know that it is 99.5% certain that such would be the case. The problem is that the cumulative impact of being wrong in one’s prediction, even just .5% of the time, when the total number of decisions made is immense, leaves God little further ahead as far as his ability to know what the final situation in any possible world, with a long history, would be.

        That is how it looks to me right now, anyway.

        • Thomas

          If God has knowledge of all possibilities, does it matter what percentage of human decisions he is “wrong” about as long as he has enough contingency plans to handle them? Since his power and wisdom are infinite he can have an infinite number of such plans, can he not?

          • Benjamin

            Good point, Thomas. Why would God always need to rely on the sheet music if even His improvisation made the best written score imaginable look like a child’s melody. Our faith in God’s competence should not be based on a supposed impossibility of His experiencing the unexpected. Even a worst case scenario has already been recorded in Genesis Six when God actually regretted His own choice to create man, yet without any insult to His own competence.

      • Greg,

        This might sound like a silly question, but as an observer of the open theism debate I’m curious:

        If God’s knowledge includes multiple possible futures, of which only one will become actual, does His knowledge therefore consist of a whole host of falsehoods (things imagined as “possible” but never actualized into reality) in which there is hidden a single unrecognized truth? My problem with this is that it means that at any given moment God knows more “untrue” things than “true,” and He is incapable of recognizing the truth of what will actually happen within the multitude of possible truths that will never happen.

        This would also mean that God learns things (e.g., He learns which possibility becomes reality). Doesn’t that ultimately equate to a denial of divine omniscience? Can an omniscient Being learn things?

        While I think open theism is an admirable and creative attempt to reconcile the age old question of divine sovereignty and human responsibility and some of the associated issues, it seems to propose a solution that is detrimental to our view of God’s character as solely truthful and fully omniscient, in the sense of definitively knowing all that is true and being able to separate truth from falsehood.

        Further, if God is subject to time, it would seem He is not infinite in this regard. We could imagine a greater God who would be sovereign over time and capable of accurately foreknowing the entire future as it shall be.

        These are honest questions and thoughts from one who is watching and listening.

        Blessings,
        Derek Ashton

  • Matthew Whitten

    Dr. Olson,

    I’ve listened to and read much of what Greg Boyd has had to say on open theism and I find it fascinating. I’ve also read a lot of the late Dr. Pinnock’s work on this. But I have to confess that I have not yet studied this subject thoroughly enough to take any sort of position on it. At least, not yet.

    But that leads me to a larger question that has been bothering me for a long time, and maybe you could address it someday on this blog. What do you think it will take for America’s brand of evangelicalism to be ready to take on debates about things such as open theism without resorting to the familiar tactics? Stated another way, what is the underlying problem that is preventing honest, open discussion about the finer (or even the greater!) points of theology?

    Dostoevsky keenly observed that his faith was “born in a furnace of doubt.” But are people afraid to address their doubts?

    Or is it a lack of humility? How many people have we all known, from many walks of life, who are so convinced they are right that any suggestion otherwise is met with hostility?

    Or is it both? Do ultra-inerrantist views, in particular, forge a kind of “fragile faith” that is afraid to admit its own theological (or scientific, or historical, etc.) problems? Does this lead to lack of open discussion within those congregations, resulting in a leadership and a laity so convinced of the purity of their message that any opposing view is summarily assigned heretical status?

    I am probably missing a lot here, but these questions weigh on me heavily these days. I’d love it if you addressed this on your blog sometime.

    • I would say the problem is fear. Most evangelicals expect America to fall in line with their beliefs, because America is the “Evangelical Nation”. When this desire for political power fades, and we are willing to say that America is part of the world, and regardless of what happens in the world, we will stay true to God, it is impossible for people to not be motivated by fear.

  • One of the things that I have had much difficulty in understanding for some time now is how precisely those coming from a Calvinist persuasion can assert that a God who grants free will somehow or another is a God diminished in power and majesty. If anything, I find that a God who is willing to limit His power in order to give creaturely freedom is a richer, fuller and more powerful God than one who simply paints all of eternity in one broad brushstroke at the beginning of time and then watches the events that He ordained unfold according to His predetermined plan,

    I agree that the Open Theist view really doesn’t matter a whole lot (unless you are a fundamentalist or Calvinist!). As long as the view does not directly contradict the Bible, I find it to be more of a philosophical argument than a theological one, much like Molinism. And, as you pointed out, there could be many practical advantages in taking a view of a God who is willing to change His mind ( as he apparently did many times in the OT).

    I hope that we can see a day where where meaningful dialogue can take place between those who take differing views many of these subjects instead of dogmatically refusing to even consider views that may be contrary to their own, yet really in the long view of things don’t matter much.

  • Jeff Kimble

    It troubles me that for all the lip service given to civility, fairness, and honesty among conservative evangelicals, we succeeded in silencing (in a way tantamount to intellectual bullying) an important and potentially enriching theological discussion on the nature of omniscience (even if we end up disagreeing with the Openness view). I followed much of the public debate and found it disheartening. In my opinion, this is a great loss to the church on a number of fronts: (1) we failed to demonstrate that even with deep theological differences, we can listen, understand, and assess and yes, profoundly disagree, in a Christian manner; (2) we have also, in effect, stifled any future discussion about this subject (or similar subjects) in conservative circles and created a social stigma around anyone who thinks the view has merit; (3) we managed to push Open Theists (unfairly, I think) to the periphery of “theological acceptability” so that others automatically dismiss their other contributions due to their stand on this one issue.
    Some will no doubt see these developments as a great victory for Christian truth, but I see them as a great loss to what could have been a robust and beneficial contribution to our understanding of God. While I am not an Open Theist, I am sympathetic to the concerns that they raise and believe that, as Christians, they have the right to raise them and have their views treated fairly in public discussion. Are we so theologically insecure that we can no longer engage ideas that question our assumptions and challenge us to rethink our positions–especially, when there is at least a prima facie reason for it based on what Scripture itself says? (So, Dr. Olson, does this make me a post-conservative?)

  • Thomas

    Terry Theissen,
    If God has knowledge of all possibilities, does it matter what percentage of human decisions he is “wrong” about as long as he has enough contingency plans to handle them? Since his power and wisdom are infinite he can have an infinite number of such plans, can he not?

  • Terry Tiessen

    You raise a good question, Thomas. It seems to me that it does matter how much of the time creatures act contrary to God’s expectation based upon his knowledge of the likelihood of a person’s action. It makes a large difference in the degree to which the total history of creation turns out the way God would like it to. I do not, however, want to diminish in any way the great ingenuity of God in responding to what actually happens, even when he is taken by surprise. I assume that it is that divine ingenuity that makes you think the difference is not significant.

    Your comment brought to mind the ETS panel that presented open theism about the time the first book was co-authored (can’t remember if the panel was before or after publication). A panel member had posited that God did not know when the end of the world would be but he knew what it would look like when that time arrived and that God would ultimately be victorious. In the discussion, I recall Francis Beckwith asking the panel members how they could be confident that God would eventually succeed. I think it was Clark Pinnock who extolled the brilliance of God’s creative responses to situations as they arise. Personally, however, I think that Beckwith’s question is highly important and it seems to me that open theists can be hopeful but not completely confident.

    Thinking of that discussion just prompted an interesting thought. Roger has expressed his distress about a theology in which God could save everyone but chooses not to. I suddenly find myself wondering whether open theism has escaped that problem. To posit that God has in mind what the end of this age will look like, while acknowledging that it will entail (from Pinnock’s perspective, at least) the annihilation of some people rather than salvation would be to grant that God is satisfied to draw this age to a close before everyone has responded positively to his grace. Doesn’t that look like something less than a total commitment to universal salvation?

    • Thomas

      Terry,
      in regard to the question of assurance that God will be ultimately victorious, I must admit that strict Calvinism holds the advantage. But that advantage comes at too high a price. If God minutely controls all thoughts, emotions and events, then, of course, he will have it his way every step of the way as well as in every detail of the final outcome. If God is the only significant actor, he will prevail simply because there is no one else in the neighborhood. Arminians and open theists see that kind of sovereignty as not a good fit with the relational God depicted in Scripture. Open theists are even more concerned to protect the idea of free, personal relationship between God and man than the old and more respectable Arminians; and consequently they are willing to see God as not knowing those future, not yet real free choices that he calls us to make.

      • Robert

        Hello Thomas,

        You wrote:

        “Terry, in regard to the question of assurance that God will be ultimately victorious, I must admit that strict Calvinism holds the advantage.”

        I disagree with you here: Calvinism does not hold any advantage regarding God being “ultimately victorious”.

        Define “ultimately victorious”?

        My understanding of eschatology (and I believe that calvinists and Open Theists would agree with me on these key details) is that Jesus is coming back again. There will be a final judgment in which the devil and fallen angels and rebellious men will be separated from God and believers. God will eliminate the effects of sin and the presence of sin, bring about a New Heaven and New Earth in which there will be no more sin, no more death, no more suffering. This state in which evil and evil doers have been separated from God is an eternal state. If THAT all happens, and all of us (including Open Theists, Arminians, and calvinists) believe THAT, then how is THAT God not being “ultimately victorious?

        If you define “ultimately victorious” as that all people will come to believe (i.e. universalism), that is not biblical.

        If you believe what the bible says about how all the dead will be raised, how evil will be eliminated and how there will be an eternal state in which righteousness alone is present (again precisely things that all of us whether we are Open Theists, Arminians or calvinists affirm and believe), How is **THAT** God not being ULTIMATELY VICTORIOUS????

        Now if you could demonstrate that determinists/calvinists **alone** affirm these eschatological facts (and that Open Theists and Arminians deny them), then your point about determinists holding an advantage would be true. But in fact we all believe these same eschatological facts.

        “But that advantage comes at too high a price. If God minutely controls all thoughts, emotions and events, then, of course, he will have it his way every step of the way as well as in every detail of the final outcome. If God is the only significant actor, he will prevail simply because there is no one else in the neighborhood. Arminians and open theists see that kind of sovereignty as not a good fit with the relational God depicted in Scripture.”

        My only quibble with what you say here is not your comments about how Arminians and Open Theists agree that God does not exercise this kind of “control” over us.

        Rather you say “that kind of sovereignty as not a good fit with the relational God depicted in Scripture.”

        I believe that you are confusing sovereignty and kinds of control here.

        We all (again Open Theists, Arminians and calvinists all affirm that God is sovereign) agree that God is sovereign (defined **biblically** as He does as He pleases in all situations).

        It is determinists who come along and REDEFINE sovereignty so that it lines up with their belief in exhaustive determinism ((similar to the way they redefine free will so that it fits with their belief in exhaustive determinism) as involving puppet master like control over humans (who are like puppets being directly, continuously and completely controlled like a puppet master controlling their puppet).

        Arminians and Open Theists rightly disagree with this deterministic conception of CONTROL (with this kind of control), but any one who believes the bible and has personal experiences with God believes Him to be SOVEREIGN (e.g. when we pray for a person who is seriously ill, we know that God could heal the person or choose not to heal the person and this choice is up to God, He is sovereign in this situation, He does as He pleases in this situation). Our objection is **not** with His ****sovereignty,**** our objection is with the Calvinistic/determinist CONCEPTION OF CONTROL. A type of control that reduces men into to robots or puppets and does in fact eliminate genuine personal relationship, a type of control that logically follows if you affirm exhaustive determinism.

        “Open theists are even more concerned to protect the idea of free, personal relationship between God and man than the old and more respectable Arminians; and consequently they are willing to see God as not knowing those future, not yet real free choices that he calls us to make.”

        I disagree with this, because I (and I am not an Open Theist) want “to protect the idea of free, personal relationship between God and man”. But I believe that Open Theism concerned about protecting this reality, then makes mistakes regarding foreknowledge. I say that you can maintain both that God engages in free, personal relationships with man AND that God foreknows all that occurs (i.e. that **is** the position of classic Arminianism). The Open Theist desiring to hold to free will and genuine personal relationship feels compelled to jettison exhaustive foreknowledge. The Calvinist/determinist on the other hand, desiring to hold to exhaustive foreknowledge is compelled to jettison free will and genuine personal relationships. Arminians do neither affirming BOTH free will and genuine personal relationships and exhaustive divine foreknowledge.

        Robert

        • Thomas

          Robert, you have made many interesting comments but I will try to address only one for now. You object to my saying that Calvinists have an advantage when it come to the idea of God being “ultimately victorious.” You are indeed correct in pointing out that if God is God how can he be other than victorious in the end. So, acknowledging your objection I will say that perhaps the reason Calvinism is believed in by so many Christians is because their doctrine of predestination strengthens their confidence that nothing, or no one, can defy God and thus he will be finally victorious. Calvinism emphasizes God’s causative power; he is the only one who can make things happen, so all things happen as he wishes. Calvinists worry that giving significant free will to man would mean that man’s decisions can be determinative, causing God significant problems in carrying out his plans. We Arminians can respect this concern without agreeing with it.

          • Robert

            Hello Thomas,

            “Robert, you have made many interesting comments but I will try to address only one for now. You object to my saying that Calvinists have an advantage when it come to the idea of God being “ultimately victorious.” You are indeed correct in pointing out that if God is God how can he be other than victorious in the end.”

            My point was that when it comes to eschatology Open Theists, Arminians and calvinists hold to the same end time events happening. If that is true, then we all see God as “victorious” in the end and so none of us has any advantage in that area over the others.

            “So, acknowledging your objection I will say that perhaps the reason Calvinism is believed in by so many Christians is because their doctrine of predestination strengthens their confidence that nothing, or no one, can defy God and thus he will be finally victorious.”

            There are multiple reasons why some people believe in Calvinism.

            Now here you have to define what you mean by “defy God”.

            Because in calvinism where God is like a puppet master who directly, continuously and completely controls each and every one of his puppets, there is no **real** defiance by the puppets against his will (i.e., even when they look like they are defying God they are simply doing God’s will for them, what God is forcing them to do; God wanted them to be defiant, he made them to be defiant persons, he controls their every thought and desire and action to make them into defiant persons). It is like looking at actors on a stage and thinking “wow that one sure is defiant to the king!” He really is not defiant, he is simply playing the role of a defiant to the king person in that particular play (if the same actors do the same play but change roles from time to time, then the same actor could in another presentation of the same play be a “good guy” who does not defy the king, what the actor does on the stage is strictly determined by what role he is playing, bad guys play villains and good guys play heroes, similarly if all is predetermined by God then you play the good or bad guy solely based upon the role that it was decided that you would play beforehand).

            You see Thomas, there can only be ***real*** defiance, not a sham, not mere acting, if the one being defiant has free will, intentionally and freely made the choice to be defiant and is choosing to defy and go against God’s will. In Open Theism and Arminianism, the people and angels are not actors, they are real and are engaging in real freely chosen defiance: in determinism/calvinism the defiance is just a puppet having its strings being pulled so that it has to be a defiant puppet!

            “Calvinism emphasizes God’s causative power; he is the only one who can make things happen, so all things happen as he wishes.”

            This idea that “he is the only one who can make things happen” is occasionalism, not biblical Christianity. In the bible God has a will, but so do angels and men. And angels and men by means of their freely made choices most certainly “make things happen” both good and bad. This universe is not just some gigantic sock puppet with God being the hand in the puppet and every other created being simply is some finger of the puppet to be manipulated. I have a lot of friends who are scientists and they will tell you that one of the primary presuppositions of science is that the world does in fact contain various realities besides God that are quite capable of “making things happen”.

            “Calvinists worry that giving significant free will to man would mean that man’s decisions can be determinative, causing God significant problems in carrying out his plans. We Arminians can respect this concern without agreeing with it.”

            The difference is that we believe that God has various plans, some that do not depend upon us (and so they will happen regardless: for example God has planned a final judgment) and some that do depend on how people will choose (e.g. the plan of salvation in which if an able minded person who hears the gospel must choose to trust in Jesus alone in order to be saved, if they don’t make that choice they won’t be saved). The determinist on the other hand believes that God has a total plan that predecides how every event will go, a plan in which God directly controls all things in order to ensure that the plan is fulfilled.

            Robert

  • Robert

    Terry,

    You appear to be contradicting yourself now.

    The key line that you wrote earlier, that seems to say that you did consider Open Theism to be heresy was when you suggested that Arminians should:

    “join the Calvinists who denounce Open Theism as heresy, that charge would be much more likely to stick than if the charge comes only from Calvinists.”

    Now by no stretch of the imagination if English has its ordinary meanings can this be construed as anything other than declaring that Open Theism **is** heretical.

    “Join the Calvinists who denounce Open Theism as heresy” = that Arminians should join with Calvinists who view it and denounce it as heresy.

    You said additionally “that charge [the charge of them being heretics] would much more likely to stick than if the charge comes only from Calvinists.”

    Now you state in contrast that:

    “Just for the record, I do not consider Open Theism a heresy. “

    Ok, then if you do not consider Open theism to be a heresy, then why did you suggest in your earlier post that it is:

    “If significant classic Arminian voices were to join the Calvinists who denounce Open Theism as heresy, that charge would be much more likely to stick than if the charge comes only from Calvinists. That is the point I was wanting to make.”

    ?????

    “Rest easy, brother.”

    How am I going to do that if on the one hand you clearly state Open Theism to be heresy and then now state it is not?

    Apparently for you English words have different words than they do for me. Have we gone down the rabbit hole with Alice?

    Robert

    • Terry Tiessen

      Robert,

      My use of should is meaning 3b in the Oxford Concise Dictionary: “forming a conditional protasis or indefinite clause (if you should see him; should they arrive, tell them where to go)”

      So, let’s put that first concern of yours to bed. My statement was not one of obligation, as you misconstrued it to be.

      OK?

  • John abcdarian

    I suggest that it is inaccurate for one to say that God can be X% certain that someone will do something. What does that even mean? It’s not like God can rerun history 100 times and see how many times out of 100 I decide to do one thing as opposed to another(s).

    I also don’t think that Francis Beckwith’s question, “how they could be confident that God would eventually succeed”, is even relevant if one presumes that God is omnipotent. Unless one is a deist, God can intervene at any time (as he has done in the past) to ensure that some event happens, or doesn’t. As actors in this universe we intervene all the time to ensure that things do or don’t occur; why not God? Furthermore, if God’s knowledge of will, won’t, and might/might not is exhaustive, and he is infinite, then he can give his full attention to each of the infinite possibilities that exist and determine his response in each one. His response would be directed to ensuring that the things that he does want to happen/ not happen do occur as he desires (his list of such things may be long or short and need not include all possible events).

    regards,
    John abc

  • John abcdarian

    I don’t see open theists as “jettisoning” exhaustive knowledge (including foreknowledge), but rather as trying to understand what knowledge is, particularly knowledge of future events. I’m not aware of any open theist that denies that God’s knowledge is exhaustive, in the sense that God knows anything that can be known, and knows each “anything” in a manner appropriate to the nature of that thing (using “thing” loosely to include nonsubstantives as well as substantives).

    The questions then go to a more basic level than just, “does God know everything”, to issues of the nature of the universe and of God’s creative power. God created time as one of the dimensions of our universe, and in so doing created the knowability of time (or, rather, of tensed events and existences).

    regards,
    John abc

    • Robert

      John wrote:

      “I don’t see open theists as “jettisoning” exhaustive knowledge (including foreknowledge), but rather as trying to understand what knowledge is, particularly knowledge of future events.”

      From the perspective of the rest of us, those who do in fact hold that God has exhaustive foreknowledge of all future events including those involving freely made human choices, the open theist is in fact denying that God has exhaustive foreknowledge and jettisoning it.

      And how is this done?

      By REDEFINING what foreknowledge means. It is quite similar to the way a compatibilist “jettisons” free will by redefining free will so that it is compatible with determinism. The open theist jettisons exhaustive foreknowledge by redefining foreknowledge so that IT CANNOT INCLUDE KNOWING WHAT HUMANS WILL FREELY CHOOSE TO DO IN THE FUTURE (which is precisely what the rest of us mean when we speak of God foreknowing what we will freely choose to do in the future! 🙂 ).

      “I’m not aware of any open theist that denies that God’s knowledge is exhaustive,”

      This is again semantics (as long as knowledge is carefully DEFINED as *****not***** including future freely made choices; according to the open theist since they have not been made yet, they do not exist and God can **only** know what already exists according to the Open Theist).

      “in the sense that God knows anything that can be known,”

      And the Open theist carefully defines what can be known as NOT INCLUDING FUTURE FREELY MADE CHOICES BY HUMANS.

      “and knows each “anything” in a manner appropriate to the nature of that thing (using “thing” loosely to include nonsubstantives as well as substantives).”

      Again, just a matter of semantics. Define things away so that they no longer exist, so they are no longer a problem for the desired open theism theory. Again remarkably similar to how a compatibilist defines away free will (as ordinarily understood) so that free will is no longer a problem for the desired deterministic theory.

      “The questions then go to a more basic level than just, “does God know everything”, to issues of the nature of the universe and of God’s creative power. God created time as one of the dimensions of our universe, and in so doing created the knowability of time (or, rather, of tensed events and existences).”

      It is true that there are additional questions, but this does not take away from the fact that open theists are out to ***reframe the debate*** so that what most Christians conceive of as exhaustive foreknowledge on the part of God is ***replaced by a different definition***, the definition suggested and approved by open theists regarding “foreknowledge.”

      Just as I wish compatibilists were forthright and admitted up front that they deny the reality of free will as ordinarily understood: similarly, I wish Open theists were forthright and admitted up front that they deny the reality of foreknowledge as ordinarily understood. Instead, like the compatibilists they engage in semantic game playing where it is believed that by merely redefining things to fit with what you want to believe, other things are explained away and your preferred view is made true.

      Robert

  • Tim Martin

    “God created time as one of the dimensions of our universe, and in so doing created the knowability of time (or, rather, of tensed events and existences).”

    But that is one of the things in dispute. I am not at all sure if Time is a created thing at all. I believe that the term time simply describes a succession of events ie this happened, then that happened etc. You can’t go out an buy a bucket full of time – hence I am not at all sure that time is a ‘thing’.

    I agree totally that the issues are not to do with God’s exhaustive foreknowledge – but simply with issues such as ‘what is the nature of time – especially the future’.

    • Robert

      Tim Martin wrote:

      “I agree totally that the issues are not to do with God’s exhaustive foreknowledge – but simply with issues such as ‘what is the nature of time – especially the future’.”

      I disagree with this.

      The issue for the rest of us, Yeh, that multitude that holds the traditional view of exhaustive foreknowledge (whether we be Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestants, Independents, whatever) :-), **is** whether or not the bible affirms “exhaustive foreknowledge” of all events by God especially freely chosen actions that have not yet occurred but will occur in the future.

      The nature of time, the content of God’s knowledge, how God knows what he knows, etc. etc. are all issues involved in this subject. But it is not accurate to say that this disagreement does not concern God’s exhaustive foreknowledge.

      Robert

      • John I.

        Interpreted literally, the Bible does not affirm that God has knowledge of future free-will choices. In the Old Testament there are many examples, such as the testing of Abraham (Gen. 22) where post-test God says the he “now” knows that Abraham fears God. (Yes, I know that there are alternate interpretations, but I’m looking at the prima facie meaning). Hence, the Bible is not as clear cut as decretal theologians (everything happens only by God’s decrees; e.g., Calvinists, etc.) make it out to be.

        Open Theists, as far as I can tell, do affirm that God has exhaustive knowledge of everything that can be known, in the best manner possible for each type of knowledge.

        One variety of Open Theist argues that future free-will choices cannot be known and thus do not constitute knowledge, but other varietes do assert they do and that God knows future free-willed choices. Some argue that such choices exist but lack alethic content (truth value), others that they exist but as “might/might not”, etc.

        And in matters of practical theology, where the rubber meets the road, no Open Theist believes that God cannot inspire prophecies, or save all, or control the future, or answer prayer, or accomplish anything that he decrees will be accomplished.

        regards,
        John I.

  • John

    Well done Robert, Its about time some honesty were breathed in here.

    As to the Heresy of Open Theism, give it some time. Once you tamper with the person of God, denying exhaustive foreknowledge you will move on to other areas. Every part of leaven works its way into the lump to leaven it all in the end. In this case, God permitting, the leaven of Open Theism will leaven the Arminian doctrine of free-will into libertarian free-will and move on to redefine Christ and finally Salvation. It may take years, but this doctrine is only in its infancy.
    You must remember that Pinnock and Boyd serve to initiate the error, its their students that will recast and reformulate this doctrine into something else, just as Arminianism is not what it was when Jacob began his formulations, for afterwards unto this day we have a variety of Arminian as well as Calvinistic thoughts on human self-will.

    • This is just slippery slope argumentation–a favorite tactic of fundamentalists. One could just as well argue that when a person denies that God can change the past (as one evangelical Calvinist said to me directly) next he or his followers will deny God’s omnipotence. Rubbish. The issue is the nature of the past is the issue, not God’s power.

  • john

    Roger: Thanks for the reply. God employed the use of that argument in Paul 1 cor 5
    Here in
    Deu 13:3 Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
    The slippery slope is more than illogical deduction, its a way of life that becomes the destroyer of future generations. Israel is full of such slippery slopes..from Judges and from its Kings it ebbs and flows. Warnings given in such a way are not unbiblical…it is in fact very biblical. I contend that there are dangers ahead regarding this doctrine and Ive read from various others the impact it has upon what Christians think about God, the scripture and the will of man.

    I believe its dangerous to say that “open theism doesnt matter very much”. I believe it matters greatly. Time will tell how God will work among his people in regards to this teaching.

    • Yes, give it time. For now, I find most of the open theists I know to be very godly men and women who are not on any slippery slope toward anything evil because of their view of God. If anything, I see many opponents of open theism on a slippery slope toward heresy-hunting and evangelical inquisitions.

    • John I.

      Re John’s comment about the dangers of Open Theism and false teaching.

      There are two difficulties present in slinging the mud of false teaching against Open Theism. First, the difference between it and other evangelical theologies hinges on issues that are philosophical and neither Christological nor soteriological. That is, Open Theism subscribes to an omnipotent omniscient god, requires faith for salvation, subscribes to justification by faith, and concurs in a high view of the Bible. Because Open Theists believe that God knows whatever can be known and knows it in the best possible what that it can be known, the philosophical difference is over the nature of knowledge. The dispute over knowledge is akin to disputing whether God can make a rock to big for him to lift, or make square circles.

      Second, the same charge can be, and has been, made against both Arminianism and Calvinism in the past. Given the diversity among evangelical beliefs, we should not jump too quickly to such warnings.

      regards,
      John I.

      • Yes. I agree. Also, I have met people who think denial of divine middle knowledge is a slippery slope toward heresy. Where does all this slippery-sloping stop? You can identify any opinion you disagree with and claim it is on a slippery slope toward some awful heresy and who can refute it? The problem is that sometimes these types of arguments, when made loudly enough and long enough, can begin to damage people’s reputations and careers. Personally, I think that is sometimes the very point. Some evangelicals (more likely fundamentalists calling themselves evangelical) get their jollies out of doing that. They need to get a life. I have no patience with them.

        • John I.

          Thank you for your comment, Roger.

          I think it is very damaging for evangelical Christians to slag each other, especially in public forums read by non-Christians. It is not easy to see not only the other’s point of view, but also to see the “other” as a fellow child of Christ. Perhaps I’ve been in university and a lawyer too long, such that I’m at home with disagreements that do not threaten fellowship, because I am astonished at some of the comments made about the implications of the views of others.

          For example, after a discussion between Paige Patterson and Al Mohler, Mohler said, “Mohler listed five areas in which all Southern Baptists are “one form of Calvinists or another”:

          — a belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. “It is not by accident that there are no great Arminian testimonies to the inerrancy of Scripture,” Mohler said. “… We really do believe that God can work in such a way that the human will wills to do what God wills that will to do. And that is exactly why we believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. We do not believe that the Apostle Paul was irresistibly against his will drawn to write the Book of Romans.”

          — a belief in the substitutionary atonement. The logic of this doctrine fits only within “the umbrella of a Calvinist scheme.” “The entire worldview in which substitution makes sense is a worldview in which the sovereignty of God and the righteousness of God and the saving purpose of God are vindicated in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

          (reported in the Baptist Press, http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=23457)

          John I.

          • I have long thought that Al Mohler just doesn’t understand classical Arminianism.

  • Tim

    Addressed to Roger E. Olson – Hello Roger,

    I’d be interested in your thoughts on how do we encourage acceptance of Open Theists as being a legitimate part of the plurarity of opinion on Omniscience and Foreknowledge amongst Evangelical Christians?

    I can’t tell you how many forums by Christians who right about the ‘evil heresy’ of Open Theism. It becomes so tiresome to read them. We can all be civilised talking from different positions on Baptism, Church Government, Gender Roles etc in the Church. But suddenly as an Open Theist I am being labelled as a heretic or even worse someone who is trying to lead the flock astray.

    This is despite the fact that in no ecumenical creed does it speak of God’s omniscience or foreknowledge that would exclude Open Theists.

    Most Calvinists accept Arminians as Christians and vice versa. I am not asking that those being ‘converted’ to Open Theism – just that Open Theists can be viewed as legitimate Christians rather than evil people seeking to lead the flock astray. (It sounds like I am exaggerating but unfortunately I’m not 🙁 )

    I’d be interested on your thoughts in seeking on Evangelicals reclaiming Open Theists as their brothers and sisters in Christ.

    Thanks

    • A good start would be to get them to read a whole book by an open theist rather than just attacks on it by their favorite conservative evangelical writers. I always ask critics to read The God of the Possible by Greg Boyd before jumping into the debate. Then I try to get them to see that open theism might actually enhance spirituality–by showing how prayer can really make a difference in the way things go. I’m not an open theist, but I respect my open theist friends’ genuine biblical and spiritual concerns. I think anyone who reads Boyd or Sanders with an open mind will have to recognize their real evangelical commitments.

  • Certainly a good review. Most of whatis happening to Open Theism today sounds alot like what happened to the historical Arminians of Jacobus’ day!

  • Open Theist

    One example of how our belief about God and time affects our personal relationship with God: if God can see the future, have you ever wondered what it would be like if you were granted a live interview with Him?

    Sheep: “Oh, God! Thank You so much for this interview! Imagine me getting to talk to Almighty God! This is so exciting!

    God: “Not for me.”

    Sheep: “Oh my, I’m sorry, did I offend You or say something wrong?”

    God: “No, it’s just that I knew you were going to say that.”

    Sheep: “You knew I was going to say what?”

    God: “Before you first spoke to Me, I knew what you were going say, and also what you just said now…and everything else you are going to say as well.”

    Sheep: “Oh, hmmm, sure, of course…I forgot…uh, uhm, wow, uh, well, this is definitely weird trying to talk to You when you already know ahead of time what I’m going to say.”

    God: “It might be weird for you, but you’ve no idea how weird this is for me…and boring too, like watching reruns on TV.”

    Sheep: “Boring? How could we who You’ve created in Your own image be boring?”

    God: “I knew you were going to ask that…maybe we should just end this conversation right now.”

    Sheep: “No, wait! I don’t understand. I’ve been told we were created for Your pleasure! What about me personally? Have you always thought of me as boring?”

    God: “Frankly, yes. Just imagine for a moment how this looks from My point of view. I actually already saw and heard this conversation a long time ago, and not just a week, a month, or a few years ago, either. In fact, I already saw us doing this interview before you were even born, before your mother was born, even before Adam was born. I also know everything you are ever going to say or do, how, where and when you will die, and what you will do forever and ever for all eternity. Now you please tell me if you would find this boring or not!”

    Sheep: “Wow, Lord, I never really considered Your situation before, in fact I always thought it would be rather awesome to be able to see the future.”

    God: “It is not only not awesome…it’s depressing.”

    Sheep: “You, depressed? Can’t You just do something to cheer Yourself up?”

    God: “Actually, no. You see my child, for Me, there is truly nothing new under the sun. Not only do I have the ability to see your future, but unfortunately I also see Mine, and I can’t do anything other than what I already see Myself doing. My omniscience effectively imprisons Me. Our future is fixed, settled for all eternity. I can’t change a thing from what I already see, otherwise how could I really have seen it, if I could just change it whenever I felt like it? That wouldn’t make any sense.”

    Sheep: “But what about prayer? People are always asking you to intervene in their lives, to change things for the better, and so forth. How does that all work?”

    God: “I knew you were going to ask Me that.”

    Sheep: “Seriously, Lord, what’s the deal? What about that new job I was praying to You about last week, and my mother’s cancer I’ve been asking You to heal? Aren’t You going to help me out here?”

    God: “This really is embarrassing. No, I’m afraid that what I already saw was going to happen in your life from millions of years ago is still going to happen…there is nothing I can do to change it. What will be, will be.”

    Sheep: “Now I’m the one getting depressed. It’s really odd, because I used to take comfort in thinking You knew everything that was going to happen. Now I realize it’s bad news rather than good. Um, I don’t think I have anything more to say to You right now. Maybe I’ll get back to You some other time.”

    God: “I knew you were gonna say that…”

    Think about it…if God sees the future, the entire universe becomes incoherent and hopeless. Think about it. Just imagine yourself having your own conversation with a God who sees the future…

  • Nick Flack

    im still trying to figure out how i stumbled upon this conversation…
    i am a ‘regular guy’ who was raised in the church, i accepted jesus as my savior when i was 8. my questions are pretty simple.
    based on the above conversation thread…
    what does free will mean?
    do we have free will or don’t we?
    is such a topic explain the difference between a christian who claims to be liberal politically versus conservative?
    should ‘regular christians’ even concern themselves with such a topic and why?

    thank you

    • rogereolson

      Free will means power of contrary choice. We do have it. But in matters pertaining to salvation we don’t have ability to understand or accept the gospel until grace restores it. No, this is not a difference between conservative and liberal Christians (politically). Yes, “regular Christians” should concern themselves with it as it has very practical consequences. If you don’t believe in free will at all you are a determinist in which case there is no point in moral or righteous indignation because people can’t help what they do.