Is Open Theism a Type of Arminianism?

Is Open Theism a Type of Arminianism? November 10, 2012

Is Open Theism a Type of Arminianism?

One of the reasons I started this blog was to provide a place to talk about Arminian issues, issues related to Arminian theology. (There is no “Arminian movement” as such, so all talk about Arminianism is about theology.) One of those questions is whether open theism, “openness of God” theology, is a version of Arminianism. Does it belong under the umbrella category “Arminian theology” or is it a “stand alone” theology vis-à-vis Arminianism? Are they separate or should Arminianism be regarded as the larger, broader doctrinal perspective and open theism a particular angle on that perspective?

Generally speaking, open theists want to be considered Arminians. Most of them were Arminians before becoming open theists; they still consider themselves Arminians. (A few open theist jumped right from some version of Reformed theology into open theism.)

Generally speaking, non-open theist Arminians do not want to include open theists among their ranks or treat open theism as a variation of Arminianism.

I think there are political reasons for that. Among evangelicals, anyway, Arminianism has long been accepted as a respectable tradition even by most Reformed evangelicals who strongly disagree with it. Arminians were among the founders of the National Association of Evangelicals. Who can seriously doubt that John Wesley should be considered evangelical? Yes, of course, there are those Calvinists and Lutherans who would like to own the label “evangelical” and exclude Arminians, but that’s not widely accepted by the movers and shakers of evangelicalism. If open theism can be considered Arminian, that gives open theists more of a voice, a place at the table, among evangelicals.

On the other hand, anti-open theist Arminians, even some Arminians sympathetic to open theism, don’t want it included as even a variety of Arminianism because gives credence to the Calvinist critics’ claim that Arminianism leads to open theism (which they claim is heresy).

I have a partial recording of a public event where two leading evangelical Calvinists talked to each other, in front of an audience, about open theism and Arminianism. They agree that open theism is “beyond the pale,” so to speak (of evangelicalism) but end up not sure what to say about Arminianism except that Arminians “are all headed there” (viz., open theism). What they meant, I feel certain, is that open theism is the logical end point of Arminian theology (slippery slope argument).

Some years ago I helped start an organization of evangelical Arminians. I didn’t argue that open theists should be included because I understood the political ramifications of that. The organization intended to introduce an organized, trans-denominational voice for Arminians among evangelicals. The thought was that including open theists would cause Calvinist critics to lump the whole organization together as heresy-friendly. It would play into the hands of those who claim that Arminianism leads to open theism. I did not agree that it does, but I could see the point of excluding open theists—at least at the beginning. Now I think that was a mistake.

Of course, setting aside the political issue, everything depends on how broadly one defines “Arminianism.” If it includes a lot of details, then perhaps open theism doesn’t belong in that category, but then many other people (who are not open theists) who consider themselves Arminians would also be excluded. For example, we evangelical Arminians disagree among ourselves about Molinism, “middle knowledge,” and whether that is a valid version of Arminianism. Many Arminians do believe God has middle knowledge and uses it in his providence and predestination of people. Some Arminius scholars argue that Arminius was a Molinist. Other Arminians are adamantly opposed to middle knowledge and especially any idea that God uses it in providence and predestination. (I’m not going to go into this here, now, but the matter was being discussed mostly amicably among evangelical Arminians on the Society of Evangelicals’ discussion board.)

To me, this is a bigger, more important, issue than open theism. That’s because, for me, and for many Arminians, THE key to Arminianism is the character of God. That is what primarily distinguishes Arminianism from Calvinism. Arminians all believe that the God of Calvinism cannot be understood (logically) to be perfectly good and loving and that ONLY Arminianism (whether under that label or not) makes it (logically) possible to view God as perfectly good (without going to universalism as in the case of Barth and some others in the Reformed tradition).

Yes, of course, free will is a key idea of Arminian theology, and prevenient grace as the source of free will with regard to a person’s acceptance of the gospel (and anything truly, spiritually good they accomplish). But free will is for the sake of God’s character. Arminians, at least evangelical Arminians, do not believe in free will for its own sake or in any humanist way. We believe in the “freed will” (freed by grace) because we believe in God’s relational goodness (stopping far short of universalism).

Molinism, in my opinion, raises question marks over God’s goodness—insofar as it suggests that God uses middle knowledge to determine persons’ decisions and actions. And why else even believe in it? The whole point of Molinist middle knowledge is to reconcile free will and determinism. I believe Arminianism is essentially non-deterministic. Divine determinism, even in its Molinist form, leads logically, inexorably, to the same problem as classical Calvinism—a shadow cast over God’s goodness. The issue, of course, is divine intentionality with regard to sin and evil and especially hell. (See my discussion of Molinism, middle knowledge, and compatibilism in Against Calvinism.)

So, it seems ironic to me that some Arminians are Molinists and that Molinism exists among Arminians, but open theism, which is closer to the “heart” of Arminianism (God’s character as absolutely good), is excluded.

Of course, one argument for including Molinism but not open theism is the appeal to tradition. Some Arminius scholars are arguing that Arminius was a Molinist. If so, I argue, he was inconsistently so. There may be passages in Arminius that sound that way, but my own “take” on them is that he was not thinking clearly on the days he wrote them. And he never comes right out and embraces Molinism or middle knowledge (to the best of my knowledge and I have read all of his works that have been translated into English and many books about Arminius and his theology).  When I was conducting my research for Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities I read numerous Arminian theologians of the eighteenth and nineteenth and twentieth centuries and never came across one that was clearly Molinist.

Nevertheless, I am willing to admit there may have been Molinism in some corners of Arminius’ many writings and in later Arminianism. I think it’s at best a foreign body within the Arminian tradition. It belongs to Calvinism, in my humble opinion. (Unless an Arminian simply believes God has middle knowledge but doesn’t use it to determine creatures’ decisions and actions. But then, what’s the point?)

Another point of disagreement and variety among Arminians is Christian perfection, entire sanctification, or not. Wesleyan Arminians believe in it; non-Wesleyan Arminians don’t. (And, of course, contemporary Wesleyan theologians disagree among themselves about its meaning.) This doesn’t even come close to touching the central issue of God’s character, so I have never worried about including both perspectives as equally Arminian. However, many Reformed critics of Wesley (and Wesleyan theology) do worry that belief in any kind of Christian perfection or entire sanctification leads inevitably to works righteousness and a denial of justification by faith. And yet, that criticism has never, to the best of my knowledge, kept non-Wesleyan Arminians from considering Wesleyan Arminians fellow Arminians on an equal footing.

So, there is very deep disagreement among evangelical Arminians about many things. Why exclude open theists—especially if Molinists are included?

The only reason I can think of is that open theism is controversial among the movers and shakers of evangelicalism—most of whom are more Reformed than Arminian. (Here I won’t get into that discussion—whether Arminianism is a variety of Reformed Protestantism.)

When open theism first came on the evangelical scene with the publication of The Openness of God in the mid-1990s several leading evangelicals screamed loudly about it—condemning it, for example, as “just process theology.” They raised such a hubbub, before even bothering fully to understand it, that evangelical leaders backed away from embracing open theism as a legitimate evangelical option. I was treated very badly by some evangelical leaders for doing so.

Here’s a personal story I can’t prove; you can either believe me or not. But I remember it as if it happened yesterday. A very influential evangelical leader who has as much authority as anyone to define “evangelicalism” and make his definition “stick” told me, over breakfast at a professional society meeting, that he leaned toward open theism and had for a very long time. This was just after The Openness of God was published, before the brouhaha over it exploded. I know he understood what open theism is, because we talked about it for at least thirty minutes and he had read and understood other writings by people like Richard Rice and Clark Pinnock that pre-dated that volume. Then, when the controversy broke out into open (non-violent) war among evangelicals, with some Calvinists especially, stomping their feet and shouting (and often revealing they didn’t even understand open theism!), this leading, influential evangelical person would no longer identify as an open theist in private or in public. He did attempt to moderate the controversy, to calm it down, and get all sides to engage in calm, civil discussion. But I am almost certain nobody but I and a very few others know he was an open theist, or at least leaned in that direction, before the controversy exploded.

How did that controversy become so explosive? Well, one way was anti-open theists misrepresenting open theism to non-theologians, pastors and lay people, as, for example, belief that “God gives bad advice” and belief in an “ignorant God.” Many of them went directly to denominational conventions and got resolutions passed against open theism by frightening delegates by implying that open theism is a Trojan horse for process theology. (They would sometimes spend more time talking about process theology than open theism and allow the scared delegates to think they are basically the same.)

I’ve often wondered why open theism, of all things, led to such hysteria (and sometimes outright dishonesty) among its critics. One thing I suspect is that many Calvinists realized that if many evangelicals adopted open theism, one of their strongest arguments against Arminianism would be nullified—that Arminianism cannot explain how God foreknows future free decisions of creatures without in any way determining them.

Open theism is, in my opinion, although mistaken, closer to the true heart of Arminianism than is Molinism (insofar as it uses middle knowledge to reconcile divine determinism with free will). It ought to be considered a variety of Arminianism just as, say, supralapsarianism is considered a legitimate variety of Calvinism. Calvinism is a diverse tradition. It includes lots of very different perspectives, some of them very controversial even among those who consider themselves mainline spokespersons for Reformed theology. Supralapsarianism is one. (Okay, R. C. Sproul is against supralapsarianism and says it’s not even true Calvinism. I’d like to see and hear him tell that to Alvin Plantinga’s face.) The Synod of Dort allowed supralapsarians to be considered truly Reformed even though most of the leaders of the synod favored infralapsarianism. There are other debates among evangelical Calvinists over which few would expel someone from being considered truly Reformed or Calvinist.

Arminianism is a big tent and a centered set. Open theism is under it and in it. It’s time all Arminians simply acknowledged that and quite trying to exclude open theists.

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  • Thanks for saying so eloquently what I have believed for some time! Kudos!

    Thomas Jay Oord

  • Dr. Olson,

    “Molinism, in my opinion, raises question marks over God’s goodness—insofar as it suggests that God uses middle knowledge to determine persons’ decisions and actions. And why else even believe in it? The whole point of Molinist middle knowledge is to reconcile free will and determinism. ”

    Calling Molinists determinists is not an accurate representation of Molininism. Molinists are not determinists – we believe in libertarian free will and do not think God causes our choices (as in a sufficient cause or one that determines our choices). This misunderstanding may be why you say Arminius was off his game when he spoke of middle knowledge.

    God be with you,

    • rogereolson

      Of course you do. And we’ve been around that bush here many times before. Libertarian free will isn’t the issue. The issue is what God does with his middle knowledge. Many, perhaps most, Molinists regard God’s middle knowledge as the “tool” he uses to exercise meticulous providence.

      • Rob

        But if God can exercise meticulous providence while preserving freewill, what is wrong with meticulous providence? I see meticulous providence as bad only insofar as it excludes freewill. If the molinists have found a way to reconcile freewill and meticulous providence, that sounds like good news.

        • rogereolson

          Again, the issue isn’t free will as such; it is the character of God and therefore meticulous providence.

          • John I.


      • Well, if the issue is what God does with his middle knowledge, then there is room for disagreement. One might say that God uses it to exercise meticulous providence (perhaps Molina thought this) and others think he uses it to achieve an optimal balance between the saved and lost (like William Lane Craig). Still others like Alvin Plantinga use it to argue against the logical problem of evil by justifying the claim that there are certain possible words that God cannot actualize (a world where everyone freely obeys God and is saved). In any case, election turns out conditional, faith precedes regeneration, and God’s grace as revealed in the gospel call is resistible, and so every brand of Molinism draws upon staples of Arminian theology and exegesis.

        And I suspect the reason why Arminians don’t want Open Theists in their camp is because they have to redefine the traditional definition of omniscience (God knows all and only truths that are logically possible for him to know rather than God knowing all truths and believing no falsehoods), and that their theology and exegesis can’t make sense of divine prophecy.

        • jess

          Optimal balance between the saved and lost? Doesn’t God desire all people to be saved? That’s what the Bible says. It doesn’t say he wants to achieve an optimal balance between the saved and the lost. Wouldn’t he still be determining who would be saved or who would be lost? If that’s what middle knowledge says then I don’t think that would be a very helpful way to think about things. I think simple foreknowledge or open theism would be better. Also, I saw a video once where Plantinga says he believes that it is possible that everyone will be saved. So maybe he believes that God can actualize a world where everyone is saved.

  • Greg D

    Although Gregory Boyd (proponent and teacher of Open Theism) vehemently denies it, I think Open Theism is indeed Arminianism on steroids. In Open Theism we have choices. We either go to the left or we go to the right. Some of these choices are predetermined, while others remain open. But, whatever path we choose, unknown to God (although He likely has an idea), He then operates within the parameters of the paths we do choose (in us, through us, around us) in order to achieve His purpose and so that He may be glorified. This is what I believe best describes Open Theism and t some degree neo-Arminianism. And, what I believe best describes the way God operates throughout eternity.

    • John I.

      The problem with descriptions like the above is that they are not nuanced and leave themselves open to many of the scary charges by Calvinists. There are also several varieties of Open Theism, and one would be hard pressed to state which is the “best description” of the movement.

      I think that it is prudent to emphasize that Arminians of all stripes, including open theists for the reasons set out by Olson, hold to God’s omniscience and omnipotence. That we can hold in common with Christians of all varieties, and with the Bible. After that it is then possible to discuss what is meant by “omniscience” which includes concepts of time, truth, knowledge, etc. the issues are far more complicated than allowed for by most Calvinists and even most Arminians.

      Even open theists would agree that (1) God knows all that there is to know, in the manner that is appropriate to its creation by God and to its being known by him, (2) that God can bring anything to pass that he so pleases to, and (3) when God brings things to pass, humans are not morally responsible to the extent that their actions are determined at that point by something outside of themselves.

      Open theism is, to me at least, a discussion about concepts of time, truth, knowledge, etc. but at a much more detailed and developed level because of the centuries of philosophical thought that have clarified many concepts and given us new concepts to work with (rather like the progression of science has lead to more complex and better science). It is also partly an intramural discussion about how to understand the character of a God who is defined by the Apostle John as love, and who is described by the Bible as being passionate, and without using the (incorrect) Greek ideas that perfection is changeless.

      • J.E. Edwards

        I do believe John Wesley would roll over in his grave. I think Arminianism and Calvinism (in the main) both have solid biblical foundations. However, Open Theism and Hyper-Calvinism are both terrible misrepresentations in their respect to these two understandings. I strongly dislike both of them. Neither Open Theism or Hyper-Calvinism will ever (thank God) be accepted by the majority of the church. These are two errors that need to be killed. I know Roger thinks that if people can somehow find a way to refute Open Theism that they can then refute Arminianism, I think his fears are mistaken. Just as I take no issue with those who tell me I have to accept Hyper-Calvinism….not so. There are simply too many Jesus-loving people who cannot come to see either of these extremes in Scripture. Most people don’t even think in these kinds of categories, so why force the issue? John, your 3 bullet points:
        (1) God knows all that there is to know, in the manner that is appropriate to its creation by God and to its being known by him, (2) that God can bring anything to pass that he so pleases to, and (3) when God brings things to pass, humans are not morally responsible to the extent that their actions are determined at that point by something outside of themselves.
        As much as people complain about Hyper-Calvinism, they should also complain against this. If Hyper-Calvinism impugns God’s character, these statements also reflect weakness in God’s nature. This is as much a caricature as is Hyper-Calvinism. Neither extreme leaves room for the unknown and mysterious.

        • rogereolson

          Not weakness in God’s nature but self-limitation of God.

          • J.E. Edwards

            Big-time disagree, my man. They both make the same error. They both change the nature of God as revealed in all of scripture. They both try to alleviate more mystery than they can and necessarily have to change the very nature of God. His point 3:
            “when God brings things to pass, humans are not morally responsible to the extent that their actions are determined at that point by something outside of themselves.”
            That is a position that, in the least, redefines God’s nature and at worst is an error that needs to be done away with. What isn’t outside of our control? I’m thinking through the grid of historic, classic Calvinism and Arminianism here.

          • rogereolson

            How does it redefine God’s nature? “Redefine” from what? Remember we’re talking about sin and evil here. You seem to be arguing that we are morally responsible, condemnable, for doing that which we are determined to do by God. How does that not shift the responsibility for evil to God? Explain.

          • J.E. Edwards

            No, I’m arguing that it is in our very fallen state to want to blame God for something we deem ourselves incapable of being responsible for. It’s a conflict of interest for sure. I know I’ve stated this many times here before, but the original point 3 lets go of the understanding of our depravity. Even if it’s only the amount of time it takes to state it, that’s how long it lets the understanding of the effects of our fallen nature go. That statement cannot hold those 2 thoughts together at the same time. We are responsible for every act we commit, even though we have a fallen nature that we didn’t get to decide if we wanted it or not. That statement (point 3) shifts the blame upon God. Don’t we see this all the time in our criminal courts? People trying to get out of crimes committed by stating they didn’t have control (insanity, psychologically unstable, upbringing, what someone else did…) and therefore cannot be held morally responsible. That argument will not work in an earthly American court and it will never work before the Judge of the universe. As far as redefining God’s nature both classic Arminianism & Calvinism would never state God’s nature in such a way. It leaves no room for the mystery between His omniscience and omnipotence and our where our wills meet. So a redefining is necessary.

          • rogereolson

            I disagree. I hope a jury will always acquit a defendant who could not have done otherwise than he or she did. Do you wish they would convict such a person?

          • J.E. Edwards

            That’s every person who has ever lived because of the effects of the fall. Rom 3:10, 23 & John 3:18 lay it out clearly. We don’t get to choose to be sinners, and we can never use that argument before God. The problem is, that when we (calvinists & arminians) will fight tooth and nail to defend our systems, we are in trouble. I know there is mystery (I know you do too) but the effects of our fall with Adam isn’t one of them. I was convinced that we both saw depravity in the same way from our past conversations, but your most recent post leads me to think differently. Are we (calvinists & arminians) saying the same thing in regards to depravity? I would rather answer you here since most people have probably moved on from this post. I’m not here to embarrass you. I appreciate your conversations here. God bless.

          • rogereolson

            I don’t know if we’re saying the same thing because, in my conversations with Calvinists, I’ve heard many different theories of depravity. Some Calvinists believe all human beings are born guilty of Adam’s sin and deserve eternal hell just for being born. Others (like Zwingli) deny that. I like the idea that willful acts of rebellion against God are the only things we are condemnable for. And while we can avoid any particular sin, we can’t avoid sinning. And yet, in each instance of real sin, we are acting freely and responsibly. I follow Wesley in that. What’s your view?

          • J.E. Edwards

            Yeah, I would disagree with anyone who says we are born guilty of Adam’s sin. We become condemned when we sin. I believe that we are all doomed to commit sin because of Adam’s sin. Just as you said, we can’t avoid sinning. I pretty much agree with what you stated above. Yet, those same election-loving people wouldn’t see justification that way. They believe (as I do) that salvation is appropriated by faith and WHEN that person believes they are justified and not until then. I see our sinning working pretty much the same way. I would guess our differences would be in the extent of the fall/depravity on us. I would say we are unable and unwilling to come. Is that what you would say?

          • rogereolson

            Haven’t I said enough here to satisfy you about that? You’ve been here a long time. How many times have I affirmed total depravity (as absolute dependence on God’s prevenient grace for anything good including the first exercise of a good will toward God)?

  • I was a Calvinist who jumped ship and dove pretty much straight into Open Theism. Interestingly, the Molinism of John Frame was a bridge that made that helped make that leap possible…so thank you to him!

    Molinism got me thinking about different ways in which God knows things, which eventually helped me to see a way out of the problem of divine determinism, which included avoiding the problem that you have cited regarding Calvinism’s strongest argument against Arminianism.

  • PSF


    You’ve indicated several times that you believe that open theism is incorrect. What would be your strongest objection to it? I’m just curious about what your own criticism of it would be and would love to see a post on it some time. The big assumption that many classical views seem to hold is that God stands outside of time (Millard Erickson gives the example of God seeing time as someone perched on a steeple seeing a parade go by . . . he can see the whole parade at once, while others just see sequential moments). I don’t know why we should assume this. How would we know God sees time like that? (I know some of the arguments, like prophecy for example, but God does not need exhaustive foreknowledge to ensure that his own promises are fulfilled).

    Also, it would be interesting to engage Reformed theologians like T.F. Torrance who speak of God experiencing a kind of time (moments within the divine life), in order to defend God’s relationality. Where do they fit into the debate?

    Anyway, thanks for the post!

    • rogereolson

      The first use of the phrase “openness of God” that I can find is in Torrance’s Space, Time and Incarnation. I don’t have the book with me at the moment, so I can’t give the page number. But I’ve mentioned it here before. I’m not saying he’s an open theist in the John Sanders, Clark Pinnock, Greg Boyd sense. But he does seem to open that door in the quote I have provided here before. I shed the philosophical idea of divine timelessness or “eternal now-ness” a long time ago. But open theism is too non-traditional for me. I am hesitant to embrace any view that is so contrary to what Christians have always believed before. And a side benefit of not being an open theist is that I have been much more able to defend them (the open theists) as true evangelicals by not being one. That’s not why I’m not an open theist, but people who want me to be one should stop and think about that.

      • William Huget

        These arguments seem more pragmatic than theological. I am sure Roger has stronger theological objections. Like eschatology, the early church had bigger fish to fry (Christological heresies, etc.) than models of providence. As well, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, etc. could be quite philosophical and were not right about many things. It would be a logical fallacy to think newness or oldness is a sign of truth or error. Neutrality may be helpful, but the bottom line is to ascertain which view is biblical/logical.

        Strident Open Theism critic (Bruce Ware, moderate Calvinist) also rejects eternal now, but does not follow it through to the logical conclusions in relation to EDF and LFW.

      • PSC

        Thanks – that’s helpful. But without God being “outside of time,” how do you explain the possibility of God knowing the future exhaustively (while also denying determinism)?

        • rogereolson

          There are things about God I am happy to admit I don’t understand. But they are mysteries, not contradictions.

      • PSF

        BTW – Torrance also speaks of God experiencing a kind of “time” in his book on the Doctrine of God (Trinity). I just wonder where he falls on the spectrum, or if he offers a mediating view.

        • rogereolson

          I’m not enough of an expert on Torrance to know. Perhaps someone else here can answer.

  • Ben

    Perhaps it should be that Arminianism is best understood as a subspecies of open theism. I would rather have an open-ended, God-directed term as a label as opposed to one linked to a long-dead European. Moreover, I know of a lot of people who confuse Arminian with Arian. Finally, in the popular mind, Arminian = free-will theist. Perhaps it’s time to frame the debate in terms of theological terminology and not anthropological. Of course, I’m being a bit tongue and cheek here, but I don’t think there’s an adequate term that covers the heart of the matter, i.e., God is really good in an understandable way and doesn’t arbitrarily damn people. Oh wait, there is a term for that belief: orthodox Christianity.

    On another note, you mentioned that Barth was a universalist. On what grounds? His thinking strikes me as way too nuanced and complex simply to end up in a traditional theological cul-de-sac. Surely he had some qualifiers to whatever “universalism” he propounded. Further, it seems to me that his Athanasian recovery of Trinitarian thought is something that Arminians, I mean, open theists, would do well to work through, as I know you have. So, then, after working through the historical doctrine of the Trinity, how have you not come to similar conclusions as those offered by Barth and Torrance?

    • rogereolson

      Similar conclusions with regard to what exactly? I have written a 32 page article on Barth’s universalism in which, using numerous quotes from CD, I prove that Barth was a universalist–of his own kind. The key is in recognizing two distinct meanings of salvation in Barth. If I fail to find a publisher for the article (I’ve submitted it to a journal), I’ll publish it here.

      • Nicholas Ahern


        I would love to read your article. Please publish in any form it so we can delve into it. 🙂

        By any chance have you read Oliver Crisp’s essay on Barth? I think it argued that Barth’s theology logically lead to universalism.



        • rogereolson

          I have not read it. But many have argued that before. My twist on the matter is to argue that Barth was and was not a universalist. All depends on which definition of salvation (in Barth) one is working with.

  • C.J.W.

    Dr. Olson,

    Thank you for this post. I see open theism as a problem for Calvinists and Arminians. I cannot believe how many Arminians were willing to concede so many of their theological convictions just to get open theists out of the ETS (Oden called them heretics, Picirilli mispresented them, and Cottrell endorsed Ware’s God’s Lesser Glory). I also saw an endorsement by you for Steven Roy’s How Much Does God Foreknow? I didn’t understand your favor of this book considering it is negative to Arminianism as well. You are not hostile towards open theists, but can you give some insight into your endorsement? In the end, I really lost respect for these Arminians, because they just seemed to lose their backbones and say, “Although I disagree with open theists on their understanding of foreknowledge, there is no way I am going to sit back and let Calvinists trample libertarian free will and the centrality of God’s love just to satisfy the political agenda of ETS Calvinists.” Alas, they never did this and thus lost a lot of my respect.

    • rogereolson

      The publisher (mine) asked me to endorse Roy’s book and I didn’t find any misrepresentation of open theism or call for open theists to be considered heretics or expelled from the “e-club.” Overall, I thought it made a good case against open theism which I think open theists should be willing to read and consider. Notice that I also wrote the Foreword to Mike Horton’s For Calvinism. Just because I endorse a book doesn’t mean I agree with it. As for standing up against open theism’s vicious critics, I doubt any non-open theist has done that more than I have–putting myself very much on the line for my open theist friends. About some other Arminians–I agree with you. One of them told me very publicly to (paraphrasing) “Shut up and sit down” when I tried to defend open theism in a public forum. He said about open theism that it is “just process theology.” I was trying to correct him during a Q & A after his talk before an audience of several hundred evangelicals and I was being very polite and respectful. He wasn’t. I have tried hard to rally evangelical Arminians to open theism’s defense without very much luck. People have been running scared from open theism for years now because of the hysteria created around it by several leading evangelical critics–including a few Arminians.

      • C.J.W.

        Thank you so much for the reply, Dr. Olson. I promise I was not criticizing you for endorsing Roy’s book. I was just trying to get some of the story behind it. I just could not and still cannot believe that ETS Arminians were so concerned about getting open theism out of the ETS that they were willing to allow Calvinists, both classical and modified, to trash classical Arminianism back years in the ETS. It was like being in the twilight zone, honestly. It is just amazing to see how biblical and theological convictions can cave so quickly under political pressure. I want to thank you, because you have indeed done more defending of open theists than any other classical Arminian that I am currently aware of.

  • Hi Roger, I like the irony that Jacobus Arminius considered himself within the Reformed tradition and say that Arminianism is within the wider Reformed tradition, which also places open theism within the Reformed tradition. By the way, I also went from decades of traditional Arminianism to open theism while holding closely to conditional election.

    • rogereolson

      From a Lutheran perspective, all non-Lutheran Protestants are “Reformed.” That includes Methodists! Go figure. Yes, Arminius was a minister of the Reformed Church of the United Provinces and taught in their very Reformed seminary. In his day, being Reformed did not require belief in unconditional individual election and irresistible grace. Apparently, it still doesn’t as the Remonstrant Brotherhood, the original Arminian denomination (so far as I know present only in the Netherlands) is a full member denomination of the World Communion of Reformed Churches! It’s only here in the U.S. (and through U.S. influence in other countries) that “Calvinism” and “Reformed” as so closely identified with each other.

  • I speak as a Calvinist, but I think you are right to identify open theism as a form of Arminianism. I also think that the more tradtional Arminians who want to exclude open theism, deeming it something drastically different because of the denial that God foreknows libertarianly free creaturely choices, wrong. Their error derives, I think, from overstating the practical difference between open theism and classical Arminianism. I say this because I agree with William Hasker that simple foreknowledge is useless to God because it allows him no opportunity to do anything about what he foreknows. By the time God knows what a creature will do in the future, he also knows what he will do, so there is no room for him to decide how to respond. (This is true even if God is absolutely timeless, so that one is speaking logically rather than chronologically about the order of God’s decrees.) So open theism actually gives God more room for genuine responsive action than simple foreknowledge Arminianism does. God’s activity in the world is thus enhanced, rather than diminished, by open theism.

    On the other hand I disagree with your assessment of the proper location of Moliniasm. It is a type of synergism. As a position that considers freedom to be libertarian, so that the situation in this actual world is indeterministic/incompatibilistic rather than deterministic/ compatibilistic, Molinism (and midddle knowledge) is a live option for Arminians, but not for Calvinists. The usefulness of Molinism within an Arminian framework is even being acknowledged by an open theist such as Greg Boyd, when he speaks of the usefulness of God’s knowledge of “might” counterfactuals, even though he denies that God can know “would” counterfactual. Incidentally, I agree with him in regard to the grounding objection to Molinism (it is impossible to foreknow what a libertarianly free creature would do unless the creature makes a decision), but I disagree with his critique (and that of many Calvinists) about the possibility of simple foreknowledge of libertarianly free acts. (William Lane Craig, a Molinist, is right to propose that we think of divine foreknowledge propositionally rather than according to the metaphor of sight.)

    On the other hand, I doubt that an open theist affirmation of God’s knowledge of might counterfactuals gives God a significant advantage providentially. Even if God could predict with 99% accuracy how libertarianly free creatures would act in every possible situation, the combination of the immense number of decisions that make up human history would not enable God to plan ahead very much. Nonetheless, if I reverted to synergism tomorrow, I would more likely become an open theist than a classic Arminian.

    • rogereolson

      Thanks, Terry. I don’t consider Greg Boyd a Molinist. His “might counterfactuals” are not at all what traditional Molinism/middle knowledge claims. His “neo-Molinism” is not, IMHO, any version of Molinism. As for Molinism belonging to Arminianism–what do you say about Bruce Ware who uses middle knowledge to explain and defend divine determinism? And don’t most classical Molinists, including some Arminians, use it to “explain” meticulous providence? That is my experience.

      • Dr. Olson,

        Dr. Ware uses Molinist terms, but he is clearly a determinist and does not hold to libertarian free will. So he redefines classic Molinist terms and ends up being not all that representative of Molinism.

        Classic Molinists see one of the main points of Molinism as a difference between meticulous providence and divine determinism. Likewise in the historic debates, Thomists rejected Molinism because it was not deterministic. Same with Calvinists and Arminian Molinists. The WCF III.II aims directly at Arminian Molinists:

        “II. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet has He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions”

        In short, while Ware does best fit under Calvinism, most Calvinists and Molinists do not see themselves as under Calvinism.

        God be with you,

        • rogereolson

          I know that Bruce’s use of middle knowledge is not standard Calvinism. He got it (I believe) from Millard Erickson. (We three were colleagues for several years.) Millard calls it “modified Calvinism.” My complaint is that any use (not just belief in) of middle knowledge leads to determinism. Again, for the umpteenth time, the issue is God’s character.

      • Bruce Ware use of middle knowledge doesn’t make much sense to me. Paul Helm is bemused by Ware’s love of middle knowledge too.

      • Roger, I didn’t intend to suggest that Greg Boyd is a Molinist. Sorry to have left a confusion there. I was simply wanting to observe that Greg has found useful the basic Molinist contention that God’s knowledge of counterfactuals is useful to God, even though he can know them only as probabilities.

        In regard to Bruce Ware, Roger, I might observe that I published concerning my own “middle knowledge Calvinist model” of divine providence in *Providence and Prayer* before Bruce had published anything on this line, so I was later happy to hear that I had some company. It is important to note, however, that God’s knowing counterfactuals was not an innovation with de Molina. Classic theism, as found in Aquinas and the Reformed scholastics, affirmed that God knows counterfactuals, but they insisted that he knows them as part of his natural/necessary knowledge, not at a middle moment.

        Molinism was very strongly criticized by Reformed Orthodox theologians, like Turretin, and Barth strongly opposed it too. I wrote an article in Westminster Theological Journal (2007), entitled “Why Calvinists Should Believe in Divine Middle Knowledge, Although They Reject Molinism.” Calvinists have been afraid of any suggestion that God’s knowledge is contingent upon his creatures. What I set out to demonstrate is that what I (and Ware) have done does not fall into that problem. God’s knowledge of possible worlds in no way makes him contingent upon what creatures would do in such worlds, because those worlds are not real. The critical thing is that what creatures actually do, in the world God chooses to actualize, in no way makes God dependent upon them or threatens his aseity and self-sufficicency.

        I was never strongly invested in the idea that God’s knowledge of counterfactuals occurs at a logically separate (middle) “moment.” What I do think is important is to acknowledge that God makes use of his knowledge of counterfactuals of human creaturely action in choosing the world he actualizes. I had a very helpful correspondence with Paul Helm about this, in 2009, and he eventually convinced me that God’s knowledge of counterfactuals is natural/necessary. We published an article together in *WTJ*, in 2009.

        So, I would no longer call my model of providence “middle knowledge Calvinism,” but might rather call it “hypothetical knowledge Calvinism.” I am aware that my continuing to affirm the importance to God of his knowledge of counterfactuals in his choice of this world will trouble many Calvinists. So, everything I said in my earlier article is still very important, but my nomenclature has changed. I now believe that it only makes sense to designate God’s knowledge of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom if creatures are libertarianly free, as Molinism asserts. A part of what God knows naturally is what a particular creature would do in a particular circumstance. Thus, my emphasis on God’s use of his knowledge of counterfactuals is very important to compatibilism. This is what enables God to choose a world in which creatures act voluntarily, but act in ways that contribute to the accomplishment of God’s purpose. It removes the need for coercion.

        In short, I have learned a good deal that has been helpful from the writings of Bill Craig and Thomas Flint (and to a lesser extent Alvin Plantinga). I think that Molinism is possibly the best form of synergism on offer. Unfortunately, I am convinced that the grounding objection is valid; it is impossible for anyone (including God) to know with certainty (as opposed to probably) how a creature would act in hypothetical circumstances. So, I remain a Calvinist and a soft-compatibilist, not a Molinist.

        I can see why you might think of Molinism as affirming meticulous divine providence, since everything about this world and its history is of God’s choosing. But do you not see a significant difference between their position and that of Calvinists? Their affirmation of libertarian freedom shapes their doctrine of providence quite differently from the compatibilism of Calvinists (or Thomists who are hard-compatibilists, affirming both meticulous divine control and libertarian freedom). On the other hand, I do think that Molinism stands right at the top of the slope on the synergist side of the watershed between synergism and monergism. But I would only apply “meticulous providence” to monergistic models. Perhaps we only differ in our terminology, not in our concepts on this matter.

        • rogereolson

          Again, for me the issue of all issues, the finally determining one for me, is God’s character. I cannot reconcile any form of divine determinism, coercive or not, with God’s goodness. And I cannot see any significant difference between meticulous providence and divine determinism. I believe the world does contribute to God’s knowledge a la Dallas Willard, Donald Bloesch and the Bible :).

  • William Huget

    I appreciate Roger’s balanced perspective and insights. I personally consider Open Theism a more biblical, coherent free will theism than Arminianism. Determinism should not even be a viable option, except in Islam. There is a spectrum from Process Thought to Hyper-Calvinism. We should strive for dialogue, not dogmatism on controversial subjects. There are political issues involved rather than humility and teachability. Too often Open Theism is misunderstood and misrepresented (straw man caricature; we should also be careful to not misrepresent Calvinism).

    I would be interested in Roger’s main reasons for rejecting Open Theism. Properly understood, I think it resolves key issues rather than defaulting to antimony, mystery, paradox, conundrum.

    • rogereolson

      See my response to another commenter who asked for the same.

    • “There is a spectrum from Process Thought to Hyper-Calvinism.”

      Bravo for that statement. There is indeed a spectrum, and it normally takes someone from the outside looking in to see that.

      Personally, I definitely agree that there is a spectrum, although I suspect the actual “truth” is not some point along that spectrum but something containing bits from all over the spectrum and probably bits from other spectrum’s as well.

  • Christian

    Thanks for this post. I identify myself as an open theist, but I also identify myself as an Arminian. I think both parties agree over the basics, with foreknowledge being the difference. Other than a few texts, both parties exegete typical Calvinist proof-texts the same way (eg. Rom. 9-11). We both seek to defend the character of God from Calvinist that impugn it (although they don’t think so). I always appreciate your posts, Dr. Olson, and I’m thankful that you stand up for the goodness and love of God.

    • rogereolson

      In fact, I don’t see Arminians and open theists as “two parties.” We’re one party with differences of opinion about a relatively insignificant detail.

  • I’m not a Molinist, but on Molinism God’s middle knowledge does not determine persons’ decisions and actions. Rather it apprehends the free actions creatures would actualise of their own free will in the various circumstances God places them in. So creatures determine their own decision in each possible world and they do it freely, but God determines the possible world which exists, and which choices therefore to occur but which are nevertheless per se free because it is perfectly conceivable that the agent could have done otherwise in that possible world.

    • rogereolson

      Of course. I know that. I didn’t say any otherwise. My point is that most people who believe in Molinism ALSO believe in meticulous providence and use middle knowledge to attempt to reconcile that with libertarian free will. My objection is to ANY meticulous providence/divine determinism. Even in Molinism God “determines” what people will do be placing them in situations where they will “freely” do what he knows and wants them to do. The fall is still, then, God’s will.

      • Jeremy

        How do you get around that with Classical Arminianism? When God was creating the world He knew the fall would happen and went ahead anyway, thus, even if passively, determining that the fall would happen. If God creates someone knowing they won’t come to faith despite grace and allows that to happen isn’t He in some sense determining that? I don’t see how you get around divine determinism in some sense or the other if God is all-powerful and all-knowing since He either causes things, or allows things that He could have otherwise prevented if He wished to do so. To me that’s the appeal of OT since you get around that sort of thing, but I think you’re stuck with it with Arminianism or Molinism. What are your thoughts?

        • rogereolson

          I’ve discussed that here many times before. The difference is divine intentionality. If I permit a student to enroll in my class knowing he will fail, I am not intending for him to fail and therefore bear no responsibility for his failing. But if I talk him into enrolling in my class knowing he will fail I do bear responsibility.

          • Phil Miller

            With all due respect, I think that answer leaves a lot to be desired. It’s actually one reason why I lean more towards something like open theism. If you knew for a certainty that someone would fail your class, let him enroll, and fail, would you not be guilty of at least a wrong of omission? It seems a bit like saying that a parent who lets a toddler alone near a swimming pool isn’t responsible if the kid drowns (except in this example, the probability of the kid drowning would not be 100%).

            But in any case, I know the purpose of the post isn’t to get into these debates. I think including open theism under the umbrella of Arminianism makes a lot of sense.

          • rogereolson

            In my analogy I assumed the student insisted on enrolling in my class. Sure, I could move heaven and earth to try to stop him but he’s an adult and I respect his free will even to fail and don’t bar anyone from my (hypothetical class).

  • If “reformists” insist on keeping the boundaries of heresy open, however, then they must be resisted with charity. The fantasy that God is ignorant of the future is a heresy that must be rejected on scriptural grounds (“I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come”; Isa. 46:10a; cf. Job 28; Ps. 90; Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1), as it has been in the history of the exegesis of relevant passages. This issue was thoroughly discussed by patristic exegetes as early as Origen’s Against Celsus. Keeping the boundaries of faith undefined is a demonic temptation that evangelicals within the mainline have learned all too well and have been burned by all too painfully. (Thomas Oden, “The Real Reformers and the Traditionalists,” Christianity Today, Feb. 9, 1998, p. 46. emphasis added)

    • rogereolson

      And Tom Oden also said of open theism “It’s just process theology.” Can we trust someone who says such an egregiously false thing (when he speaks or writes about the subject at all)? And I find it ironic that Oden appeals to Origen who was declared a heretic himself by the Second Council of Constantinople. Oden has been, in my opinion, one of the evangelical anti-open theists most guilty of misrepresenting it. All open theists believe God knows what is still to come in terms of God’s ultimate will for history. On the other hands, I think Oden is THE “go-to guy” when it comes to classical Arminianism and Wesley’s theology.

      • jess

        I am incredibly surprised that someone as smart as Oden would equate open theism and process theology. I have read both open theists and process theologians and their differences far outweigh their similarities. If I didn’t know of other smart people who could see the huge differences between process and openess I would think I was missing something or not reading very carefully. The biggest difference for me is that open theism is based on the Bible and process theology isn’t.

  • I don’t see anything wrong with acknowledging Open Theism as a legitamate Christian perspective, while saying it is not a form of Arminianism. Your arguements seem to be more morally based than based on comparing the actual theological systems. Open Theism places God within time, which is a different ontological model than the traditional Arminian view. I would argue enough so that it is something different.
    The two are definately related though, i admit that. However, related isn’t the same as being the same. I hate to use this analogy, but Mormons want to be considered Christian, but they aren’t. Just because they want it, and just because it would allow them to be seen as more legitamate does not mean that we have a moral obligation to acquiesce.
    While Open Theism is entirely different from Mormonism, where one is a legitamate Christian theological position while the other is a non-christian religous organization, a moral appeal is still just as hollow. Whether or not Open Theism is the same as Armininianism has to do with the theology, not the politics.

    • rogereolson

      I didn’t say it’s the “same” as classical Arminianism. I said Arminianism is a big enough category to include it. And I defended that theologically–with the comparison with Wesleyan belief in entire sanctification. Your comparison with Mormonism is a bad one. A better comparison is the one I provided–supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism within Calvinism. Also note that Nicholas Wolterstorff, a Reformed philosopher, jettisoned belief in God’s non-temporality long ago. So that’s that unique to open theism.

      • I mentioned at the offset that I wasn’t too happy with the Mormonism analogy, but it is important to recognize that I don’t consider it a completely analogous relationship. I only mentioned in the sense that saying “This group wants to be included in this group” isn’t really an arguement. That is the full extent to which I referenced the Mormons. Anything else is extending it beyond my intentions.

        I also don’t think your supralapsarian/infralapsarian analogy is very good either. There are very few who would say that supralapsarianism is outside of Calvinism. I better Calvinism analogy would be Amyraldism. There are many Calvinists that consider it outside the camp, yet many also claim it is within it.
        But here’s my theological point: what theological points within Open Theism makes it an Arminian system? You don’t really address that.

        • rogereolson

          Gee. I thought I did explain that. Maybe I only did that in a previous post. Let’s just say the only difference is in definitions of foreknowledge. That’s not enough for me to consider open theists non-Aeminians.

          • I’ve been thinking a bit more about this, so I’m going to back track a little. My fundamental point so far has been that Open Theism holds to a distinct view of God due to the fact that God is bound by time. But it is true that most, if not all present Open Theists would ascribe to the points of Arminianism as derived from the Articles of Remonstrance (not exact adherence, but same general points).
            But let us consider a hypothetical. If a person were to adopt a Semipelagain view of soteriology, yet hold to the same vision of foreknowledge as an Open Theist, would that person still be an Open Theist, or something else entirely? If so, then Open Theism cannot be considered part of Arminianism, but the two would not be mutually exclusive. I think I would be willing to capitulate on that point (ie that Open Theists generally are Arminian, but is not a subset thereof).

          • rogereolson

            This raises the question of what “open theism” means. Is it just a certain view of the future and God’s knowledge of it? In that case, not everyone who holds that view is Arminian. But if “open theism” refers to a theological research project and proposal among certain evangelicals, then, I am arguing, it is a subset of Arminianism. Process theologians hold a similar belief about the future and God’s knowledge of it (as open theists) but are not “open theists” in the second sense. Here’s an analogy. What if I ask if dispensationalism is a subset of evangelicalism? Most would say that it is, of course. But what if someone then identifies a dispensationalist who denies the deity of Christ, salvation by faith, and the Trinity? I would still argue that dispensationalism, as most of us understand it, is a subset of evangelicalism although there are dispensationalists who are not evangelicals.

          • Where that analogy breaks down though is that evangelicalism is a centered set regarding general Christian worldview. While Arminianism is also a centered set, it is more refined in scope, that being soteriology. While both have ramifications on other theological disciplines. Open Theism is not a soterialogical theory. That establishes it has something else, though there would be cross over.

          • rogereolson

            The point is that open theism’s soteriological theory is the same as Arminianism’s.

  • Rob

    Tell me if I am way out of line here, but isn’t there something misplaced about the amount of energy put into open-theism/molinist/calvinist disputes? (I know that sounds funny coming from me.) Here is my worry, the vast majority of church-going protestants could not speak five intelligible sentences about the atonement, trinity, or incarnation–which are far more central to Christian faith and practice than foreknowledge and so these discussions, at least in the big picture, seem like a distraction.
    I worry that even among protestants who have the “right answers” on the major doctrinal issues, their belief in the hypostatic union or fallen nature of humanity resembles their belief in Newton’s 2nd law or that Britain is a constitutional monarchy–beliefs that are far away from the motivational center of one’s life.

    • John I.

      It does have impact with respect to how the gospel and the character of God is presented. The result of the Calvinist presentation is frequently that Christians leave Christ, and nonChristians refuse to consider him. If the Calvinists are wrong, then there is a large segment of the body of Christ that is giving God a bad name and putting an unnecessary obstacle or hindrance in the way of others. One might even call it a millstone.

  • Ben

    I would love a copy of your paper on Barth!

    • rogereolson

      If it gets published I’ll announce that here. If not, I’ll post it here.

  • Christian

    Greg Boyd responded to your post, Dr. Olson, on the inclusion of Open Theism within Arminianism. He briefly talks about the prevalence of Open Theism among Arminians before the contemporary debate even started and before Open Theism was called Open Theism.

    • rogereolson

      Although not a Methodist, I. A. Dormer might belong in the list do earlier open theists.

  • William Huget

    As Roger as pointed out here and elsewhere, Arminianism is not Pelagianism, Open Theism is not Process Thought, Calvinism is not the same as hyper-Calvinism. Tiessen and Olsen have good attitudes and aptitudes and affirm Open Theism friendly principles. I am still surprised at their reticence to embrace Open Theism.

    EDF does not offer providential advantage since God could not change the future even if He wanted to. The issue of timelessness vs endless time is germane to the debate. The nature of free will (LFW or compatibilism), etc. must also be resolved.

    I assume the Arminians would affirm simple foreknowledge because of eternal now. For the ones who reject it, can you give a possible mechanism or explanation of SFK without begging the question (just assume it without being able to understand it).

  • Yay, Roger! Excellent post. I’m an open theist who’s been arguing as much for some time. I applaud your ability to surpass “politics,” think clearly, and call it as you see it.

  • Bev Mitchell


    Sorry to be late due to travelling. But I can’t resist adding my 2 pennies.

    I love the following two quotes:

    “I believe Arminianism is essentially non-deterministic.”

    “….it seems ironic to me that some Arminians are Molinists and that Molinism exists among Arminians, but open theism, which is closer to the “heart” of Arminianism (God’s character as absolutely good), is excluded.”

    Then this:

    “…many Reformed critics of Wesley (and Wesleyan theology) do worry that belief in any kind of Christian perfection or entire sanctification leads inevitably to works righteousness and a denial of justification by faith.”

    I guess the easiest way to avoid this trap is to be sure not to do anything good. 🙂

    Finally, another quote from your good piece and a rant:

    “When open theism first came on the evangelical scene with the publication of The Openness of God in the mid-1990s several leading evangelicals screamed loudly about it—condemning it, for example, as “just process theology.” They raised such a hubbub, before even bothering fully to understand it, that evangelical leaders backed away from embracing open theism as a legitimate evangelical option. I was treated very badly by some evangelical leaders for doing so.”

    Isn’t this tactic getting very old? I won’t even call it a strategy, because it doesn’t qualify. It’s the same thing with Rob Bell’s book, with the Emergent Movement etc. until we’re sick of it. There are so many good things in these positions that can be gleaned without full acceptance – certainly without following to the extreme edges. And what theological position does not have extreme edges? Sometimes these edges are the cutting edge, other times they are just warning signs beyond which it would be unwise to venture.

    Call me naive, but surely, when some “new” position comes on the scene, if it is orthodox at the centre, we should first look for the good in it, because we all need to grow. Then we should define the edges, with particular attention to the cutting edge, because yet more may be learned there. Then we should combine the “new” good revealed with the good we think we already have so as to grow and improve.

    This all requires an openness to change. Change is largely good not largely bad! Reactions like those described in the quote above should immediately raise suspicions re what the reactionaries fear. And, what on earth is fearful about fellow Christians exploring matters a bit more deeply, and returning to the ancients in cased we have missed something? If the centre is always Christ crucified and risen, there is freedom. Freedom, like change, is mostly good not mostly bad.

    In the end, you are correct, the issue is nearly completely soulish, and can be summed up under the rubric of politics. This is all so tiring, but no end is in sight.

    • jess

      “If the centre is always Christ crucified and risen, there is freedom.” Great line, Bev. It makes you wonder how many theologians really have Christ at the center and not their theological distinctives especially when they react in such ways to creative thought.

  • Dean

    Actually, contrary to what Rob says above, I really appreciate this debate. It was probably only a few years ago that I was one of those evangelicals who had never given any Christian doctrine much thought, but reading the Openness of God almost made my head explode, and I had a similar albeit more emotional response to Love Wins. For someone growing up in your typical conservative American Evangelical tradition, just even knowing about these other ideas on what God might be like was mind blowing to me and has really enriched my spiritual life in a way that I can’t even begin to describe. I’m not sure I’m at a place where I can come out and say that I’m an Open Theist, pretty much for the same reasons that Dr. Olson has given, but I’m much of the way there. It’s explanatory power for creation, the nature of God as revealed in the Bible and it’s validation in our everyday experience is so compelling to me that I think it’s worth everyone’s time to seriously think about and consider as a valid biblical doctrine. For hyper-Calvinists to criticize Open Theism is simply ludicrous and in my opinion, and hypocritical on top of that. The amount of exegetical, logical and ethical gymnastics required to justify hyper-Calvinism pales in comparison to the simplicity and elegance of Open Theism by a long shot, but the former is acceptable and the latter is heresy? Seriously?

  • I think open theism does runs into “character of God” issues when trying to account for future events that are settled. In those situations open theism starts to sound Calvinistic. Both Calvinists and open theists agree that in order for the future to be known, the future must be determined. Open theists propose that God settles some portions of the future instead of all of it.

    Boyd states it like this: “The open view holds that some of the future is open, not all of it. God can pre-settle as much of the future as he wants to pre-settle. If, in order to fulfill specific prophecies, God needed to providentially orchestrate things so that certain people with evil characters played out their evil intentions in specific ways, he could easily do this, and do so with impunity.”

    That sounds a lot like what Calvinists say. If God makes certain events in the future necessary, and accomplishes those events by causing evil people to do evil things, that’s determinism.

    • rogereolson

      But which open theist says that God accomplishes future events by causing evil people to do evil things? I’m not aware of it.

      • Sure, the open theist doesn’t state that God accomplishes future events by causing evil people to do evil things. Neither does the Calvinist. I’ve yet to meet a Calvinist who straight out admits that God causes evil people to do evil things. They equivocate. I think open theists (inadvertently) equivocate about God’s goodness in the same way that Calvinists do when it comes to their explanation of how God pre-settles certain future events.

        • rogereolson

          But, of course, they’re wrong. 🙂

      • But it doesn’t matter if any open theists say it. It is the good and necessary consequence of open theism. According to open theism, God cannot know the future free acts of people and can only know the future acts of people if he causes them. So when God gives prophecies of settled future events, God must make those happen. That includes a lot of specific sin and evil. This is one big reason that Arminians should reject open theism. In my opinion, although it aims to clear God of responsibility for evil and being a moral monster, it actually establishes these things (though much less so than Calvinism) due to a good amount of divinely determined (and prophesied) sin and evil.

        • rogereolson

          Please give an example of this. How is the open theist view of prophecy different from the Arminian one? That is, in what way different from classical Arminianism must an open theist attribute evil to God? Cite a specific prophecy and explain why an open theist explanation of it necessarily attributes evil to God whereas a classical Arminian one does not. (Of course, my view is that neither one does, but you seem to be saying an open theist one does in cases where a classical Arminian one does not. So please give an example so we can understand your argument better.)

          • Well, any prophecy that prophesies the doing of evil far enough out to be beyond merely being able to see it transpire from the present? How about God’s prediction to Abraham that his descendants would be esnlaved in Egypt for 400 years , that he would bring judgment on their enslavers/oppressors, and they would come out enriched, or similarly, that they would not come back to the Promised Land for 4 generations due to the Amorites wickedness not being full until then? Or how about some of the very detailed prophecies in Daniel, such as in Daniel 11? Now I am not claiming that open theism necessarily explains these as requiring God causing evil, but that this is the good and necessary consequence of open theism’s premises. The difference between the normal Arminian view and open theism is that the former believes God can know the future libertarian free acts of people without removing libertarian free will and causing them whereas open theism, in agreement with typical Calvinism, denies this.

          • rogereolson

            Did you notice that even you mention “God’s prediction to Abraham?” At least some open theists interpret many biblical prophecies as divine predictions based on trajectories God sees. Many such prophecies were conditional and did not, in fact, happen. For example, God told David the men of Keilah would turn him over to Saul. They did not. My point is not to agree with open theism but to point out that open theists have anticipated and responded to these issues. And, of course, it’s one thing to point out a “good and necessary consequences” of someone else’s belief and something else to attribute it to him or her. It seems to me you are practically (i.e., for all practical purposes) attributing belief that God causes evil to happen to open theists (even though you deny it) by distancing them from Arminianism on the ground of what you see as that good and necessary consequence.

        • “At least some open theists interpret many biblical prophecies as divine predictions based on trajectories God sees.”

          **** Hence the charge that open theism allows for God to be wrong.

          “For example, God told David the men of Keilah would turn him over to Saul. They did not.”

          **** But that is obviously conditional in context. David asks God if they will turn him over to Saul in in order to decide whether to stay or go. Since God tells him the men of Keilah would hand him over to Saul, David left, avoiding that situation.

          “And, of course, it’s one thing to point out a “good and necessary consequences” of someone else’s belief and something else to attribute it to him or her. It seems to me you are practically (i.e., for all practical purposes) attributing belief that God causes evil to happen to open theists (even though you deny it) by distancing them from Arminianism on the ground of what you see as that good and necessary consequence.”

          **** Not at all! It is surprising you would take me so given your criticism of Calvinism based on its good and necessary consequences. I specifically qualified that I was not attributing that belief to open theism, but to its good and necessary consequence. On your reasoning, do you not practically attribute all sorts of terrible beliefs to Calvinism that it explicitly denies? And I did not distance open theism from Arminianism, but said that Arminians should reject open theism. Arminians who are open theists should reject open theism, ceasing to be Arminians who accept open theism, and becoming Arminians who reject open theism. And more traditional Arminians who already don’t believe open theism should not accept it. One of various reasons is that, given prophecy, open theism’s good and necessary consequence is to imply either that God can be wrong or that he sometimes authors sin and evil.

          • rogereolson

            Well, we are not going to agree about this. And, in my opinion, you are “interpreting” the story of David and the men of Keilah. Your interpretation, though possibly right, isn’t stated in the text. You are making the story fit your theology (an open theist would say).

          • Agree about what? You should certainly take my word for it that I am neither explicitly or implicitly charging open theists with teaching or holding that God authors evil. (How else should reasonable and charitable dialogue proceed?) If you insist I practically attribute such teaching to open theism, then you indict your own criticisms of Calvinism, since many of them are argued on the same basis– Calvinism explicitly teaches such and such, but its premises logically demand the opposite (for example: mainstream Calvinism teaches God is not the author of sin, but its doctrine of exhaustive divine determinism logically entails that God is the author of sin). You can certainly disagree that the good and necessary consequences of open theism make God either liable to being wrong or the author of some sin and evil. We don’t have to agree about that. But it makes little sense to assert that I am attributing something to open theism it doesn’t teach.

            As for the story of David and Keilah, anyone can claim “interpretation” about almost any passage of Scripture. You would have to admit that the open theist would be “interpreting” the story. But biblical exegesis is not about simply receiving the truth of Scripture, but trying to discern what that is through sound interpretive methods. So it is often about what is most plausible. The open theist interpretation you mention is rather implausible if it denies that the divine word to David is to be understood as conditional in context.What part do you think is debatable in my view, that David was seeking guidance from God when asking him about what Saul and Keilah would do? That is hardly debatable. David was using the ephod, which was used for obtaining divine guidance. The fact that David used the information from God to decide to leave the city, and then we’re told that David having left the city is why Saul did not destroy it, all make my view of the passage virtually certain. Indeed, one wonders if open theists would disagree. What would the difference be, that the divine answer was not obviously conditional on David staying in the city? Perhaps it was a bad example for you to use. Perhaps this passage is one that is easily accounted for by both open theism and traditional Arminianism, and it is not fit for getting at the underlying difference between the 2 views, which would be whether God knows what will happen in the future or not and whether many prophecies are merely uncertain divine predictions vs. certain divine predictions (i.e., announcements about what will actually happen).

          • rogereolson

            A parallel, I think, would be if I said that Calvinists can’t be evangelicals because of the good and necessary consequences of what they confess. I don’t way that. You are saying that open theists can’t be Arminians because of the good and necessary consequences of what they confess. There’s the true analogy. I hope I don’t exclude people because of the good and necessary consequences of what they say they believe. That is what you seem to be doing.

          • But I don’t say that open theists can’t be Arminians! That should be quite clear from w hat I have said. I clarified it in response to you earlier, saying explicitly that I do not distance open theism from Arminianism and also speaking of “open theists who are Arminians”. I have only indicated a problem I have with open theism based on *my assessment* of its good and necessary consequences. So I would urge Arminian open theists to turn from open theism to a more traditional form of Arminianism and more traditional Arminians to reject open theism and stay more traditional Arminians.

          • rogereolson

            Well, I thought you began this thread by arguing against my inclusion of open theists among Arminians as Arminians.

    • jess

      “people with evil characters”. Defining this phrase within a libertarian versus compatibilist model makes a world of difference. Put that Boyd quote a a little bit in context and see if you can find a Calvinist who would agree with it. I think you have a hard time with that.

    • John I.

      Open theists would also generally contend that noone can be morally responsible for an action in so far as God has determined that they will do that action. This line of thought can be analysed in a more complex and nuanced manner, but that’s the gist of it. Hence if God has to directly intervene in someone’s mind or body or spirit to ensure that they do (or don’t do) “x”, then that person will not be blameworthy (if action is “bad” / evil) nor commendable (if action is good) for that action.

      • rogereolson

        That’s my point to J. E. Edwards here. But he disagrees. I simply don’t get how one can disagree with that. In what court of law, for example, would a reasonable judge or jury condemn a defendant to death (for example) for causing another’s death when he had no control over it?

        • J.E. Edwards

          Don’t understate what I said. I’m not talking about a person who has a seizure at the wheel here and such things. Why is the tendency to want to make our sin less? I don’t see David doing that in Psalm 51. He’s a good model for us when we want to make our sin less. We are too influenced by a culture full of psychology and one that is always looking for ways to make us less responsible for what we do, even while influenced by drugs, alcohol, upbringing, et al.

          • rogereolson

            The Bible makes clear that David could have avoided his sin with Bathsheeba (and murdering her husband). That’s why he was guilty and needed to repent.

          • J.E. Edwards

            True, but I was referring to his willingness to not make his sin less. I’m not saying you are trying to make sin less. I’m saying that your argument “feels” that way to me. That is part of our fallen state. We always want to make less of our sin.

  • John I.

    Perhaps I’m wrong, but even though Arminianism is a term directly linked to the name of a specific theologian and reformer who held to his own specific beliefs, in the ensuing centuries arminianism has come to be an umbrella term for a range of viewpoints that posit love, relationality and nondeterminism as characteristic of God and of the world that he created. In this sense “classical Arminianism” would be a view very close to what Arminius held, but arminian can also be used to describe other ways of conceptualizing nondeterminism.

    • rogereolson

      Similar to “Calvinism.” Charles Hodge argued that a Calvinist does not have to agree with Calvin about everything. And obviously not all do. It’s an umbrella term to cover a range of opinions within a larger agreement about God’s sovereignty. Just as there are varieties of Calvinism, so there are varieties of Arminianism.

  • Bev Mitchell

    After reading all of the responses, and even though the room may be empty by now, the following may be useful for future discussion.

    Taking a cue from this quote made in one of your responses above, “Again, for the umpteenth time, the issue is God’s character” there is another perspective almost entirely absent from the discussion so far. In what appears below my point may well be overstated, but it is sad to see such emphasis placed on knowledge in and/or outside of time while almost ignoring the most important aspect of God’s character.

    Omniscience is not the heart of the unfortunate clash between open theology and other evangelical theologies, but it is a convenient side issue, sometimes a useful smoke screen.

    The real clash is over omnipotence. More to the point, two views of love and power are at work here, at least from the vantage point of this amateur observer. One view sees almighty power as the bottom line, the other sees perfect love as foundational. The middle ground from this perspective is finding some way to reconcile almighty power and perfect love – thus various forms of Arminianism.

    Open theology goes an important step further and says the two cannot be reconciled. Almighty power is only possible when engendered by perfect love. There really is a chicken, there really is an egg and one really comes first. As a result, any realization of power, any kind of control or politic that does not come directly and completely through perfect love will always be terribly threatened by the thought that perfect love must come first.

    Yet, the revelation we have in Scripture, and especially the NT, and most especially the earthly ministry of Christ, and his sacrificial death, clearly put love first. This is always a great challenge to all of us, regardless of our theological leanings. It is one thing to say that love comes first, quite another to live that way. Yet, that is exactly what we are called to do.

    When Christ returns every knee shall bow, not because of the force of irresistible power, but because of the revelation of perfect love. Ideally, even irresistible power can and should be resisted (hence martyrs) but even the insane would respond positively to perfect love. It is impossible for us to imagine beings in such a sorry state that they will resist perfect love – but Scripture seems to indicate that such exist. Yet another mystery.

  • Keith Noren

    I think of Arminianism as a clever theological tact, whereby God can both know the future (and thus be omniscient) yet be not responsible for allowing tremendous human-caused evil, and natural disasters (and this be all good). That leads to an awkward, sleeping God who does not prevent what He knows will be a bad event – kinda like a parent knowingly allowing his 12 year old untrained driver drive on a freeway. The Open View is more straightforward and simple, God is not responsible for tremendous human evil or natural disasters because he does not know in fact they will occur until it happens. Of course that doesn’t get around all the classical theodicy issues because God does not universally (or even frequently) immediately act to repair tremendous human evil or natural disasters as soon as they happen (i.e. a poor first responder). Instead He is hoping that humanity will do so. The only logical position that preserves God’s goodness is that He is now (after the act of Creation) indisposed (or even incapable) of helping when tremendous human evil, or natural disasters except through Spirit-led guidance which can be thwarted by human beings and their sinful nature.

    Maybe we can call this the “very open view of God”. No doubts this creates issues in Christians’ minds. For example, miracles, the point of prayer, and prophecies. But miracles could be those few times God does intervene although he is indisposed to do so. Prayer is to straighten out our attitudes/responses and God may work on others as well for coordinated efforts He desires. Prophecies are either conditional or pre-announcements of planned interventions unconditionally as Richard Rice proposes in God’s Foreknowledge and Man’s Free Will.

    Most likely we will never know what is the correct “view” for sure, but it helps to have a pragmatic theodicy that lends itself to listening to the Spirit (who we believe is doing all He can) when tragedy/evil comes our way (or near us) so that we respond w/o ambiguity (i.e. wondering why God did you allow this? or where God are you now?). And also preserves a God we can worship. I’d rather have God’s Goodness than His Omnipotence over all future time, but I understand others that value Omnipotence over Goodness. I do not think you can logically have it both ways.

    Finally I really don’t care if this type of Openness Theology is included into Arminianism or not.

  • Brian Abasciano


    I actually have no problem saying that open theism is generally a variety of Arminianism (with the qualification that emerged from your interaction with Martin above — OT in the sense of a theological research project and proposal among certain evangelicals; there can be open theists who are not Arminian). It is a non-traditional one just as current corporate election Arminianism is a non-traditional one. Open theism typically agrees with every one of the major points of Arminianism, unless one defines conditional election strictly as being according to foreseen faith, in which case, the corporate election model would also be ruled out of Arminianism.

    But I don’t see this as meaning that every Arminian group, such as the Society of Evangelical Arminians (SEA), should let open theists in. Let me speak about SEA as an example of an Arminian group that does not allow open theists to join (I am not saying you were targeting SEA in your post, but it certainly applies to us at least). We formed SEA as evangelical Arminians holding to God’s exhaustive foreknowledge and wanted to have just such an organization. That is because that is what we believed and believe, and think it an important belief, but also because we want to show as clearly as possible that Arminianism does not necessarily lead to open theism as is often charged. There is nothing wrong with us forming a group that has certain theological convictions. Indeed, that principle is necessary for the formation of any theological group that has boundaries. So it seems fine for SEA, for any number of reasons, to decide to restrict the group to Arminians who believe in exhaustive divine foreknowledge. We see a need for just such a group. So we formed and maintain one. It would have been and remains reasonable to have an Arminian group that includes open theists. But that is not SEA. At the same time, we do not reject open theists as fellow believers nor are we hostile to them, though we sharply disagree with them about divine foreknowledge.

  • Jacob

    Awesome! Thank you for sticking up for us : )

  • Dr Olson,

    A good friend of mine who’s been running a theology podcast for a number of years now, is interested in hosting a debate with a prolific arminian scholar like yourself and a calvinist scholar of the same calibre. I mentioned to him that, if you’re interested in participating, you’re obviously one of the better candidates to represent arminianism.

    Would you be interested in doing such a debate?

    If you’re too busy, who would you recommend in your stead? If yes, how should we contact you? Maybe to keep your contact details confidential it’s best that you contact him via his blog directly? His email should appear at

    We would be most appreciative if you could participate in such a debate.

    Many thanks for considering this.

    • rogereolson

      I’m not a debater. I always think to myself after a debate “Oh, darn! Why didn’t I say that?” Thinking quickly on my feet, so to speak, is not my gift. I like think I’m not a bad writer, but I know I’m not a good debater. I do have conversations with Calvinists, but not debates. If I think of someone who might want to do this, I’ll contact your friend.

      • thank you in any case for considering it. We’ve also considered Brian Abasciano, Michael Horton and Jerry Walls. I’m not too familiar with names who represent arminianism, but you and the former 2 were options off the top of our heads.

  • Roger,

    Thank you so much for this brave, fair and unflinching post. In my personal estimation, most of the issues raised here are, at worst, not being mentioned at all and, at best, not being mentioned enough. For a topic such as this to enjoy support from a voice as credible as yours is a wonderful thing. Please keep up the great work!