By Pastor Bruce K. Oyen
First Baptist Church
My theme is presented as a question: “Open theists: when did they go wrong?” If you don’t know what “open theism” is, here is my own simplified explanation of it: It is the belief that God does not know ahead of time what choices a person will make about one thing or another. He must wait until those choices are made. This is contrast to the long-held view that the Bible teaches God has complete knowledge of all things throughout all time, including the choices we human beings make on any subject.
Theologian Roger E. Olson has an informative section about open theism in his book called, “The Westminster Handbook To Evangelical Theology,” which is published by Westminster John Knox Press. Here is part of what Olson says: “Evangelical theologians have not always agreed about the details of the doctrine of God, but seldom have they fallen into acrimonious debate and attempts at exclusion such as surrounds the so-called open theism controversy, which takes place almost exclusively among evangelicals. Evangelical theology is generally conservative; it seeks to preserve the best of the Great Tradition of Christian belief and thought while elevating Scripture above tradition.”
Later in his discussion of open theism, Olson wrote: “Nevertheless, in spite of divergences over secondary matters, nearly all evangelical scholars in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries believed and taught that God’s omniscience includes infallible and exhaustive knowledge of the past, present, and future. In 1986 Canadian evangelical theologian Clark Pinnock published a chapter entitled ‘God Limits His knowledge’ in Predestination and Free Will (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press), edited by brothers David and Randall Basinger. There Pinnock argued from a traditional Arminian viewpoint regarding human free will (i. e., that human beings are given the gift of free will that is not compatible with divine determination) to a conclusion seldom if ever reached by earlier Arminians—-that God limits himself in relation to free human persons, such that even God does not know with absolute certainty what they will do with their free will until it is determined.”
Olson went on to say more about Pinnock’s conclusions: “Responsibility for decisions and choices is an illusion unless persons have significant freedom, and there can be no significant freedom if anyone—including God—knows with absolute certainty what a person is going to do before he or she decides. To be free with regard to any decision is to be able to decide and act otherwise; exhaustive and infallible divine foreknowledge may not cause a person to decide and act, but it renders a person’s decisions and actions not truly free, because they could not be otherwise than they are foreknown to be.”
Now, with some understanding of open theism, we can ask and answer this question: when did open theists go wrong? The answer is quite simple: they went wrong when they exalted human reasoning above the Bible’s clear and infallible teachings on this subject.
The Bible does clearly teach the very thing they deny. Take one example of this teaching. It is found in 1 John 3:20, which says this: “For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.” (New King james Version) For more examples of the Bible’s clear affirmation of God’s absolute knowledge and absolute foreknowledge of all things, look up the following Biblical statements: 1 Kings 8:39; Job 37:16; Psalm 139; Isaiah 46:9 & 10; John 2:17; Acts 15:18; and Romans 11:33. For even more examples of such Biblical statements, look up the subject in a topical Bible, such as those by Nave and Thompson. Another good resource to look in is The Treasury Of Scripture Knowledge or The New Treasury Of Scripture Knowledge.
Keep in mind what Roger E. Olson said above: “Nevertheless, in spite of divergences over secondary matters, nearly all evangelical scholars in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries believed and taught that God’s omniscience includes infallible and exhaustive knowledge of the past, present, and future.” His statement leads me to ask the following question: And why did they almost unanimously hold this view? It was because the Bible clearly affirms it. But open theists deny what the Bible says about God’s omniscience because it does not line up with what their human reasoning leads them to conclude. Their human reasoning says free choices aren’t free if they are foreknown. But, if they would accept what the Bible says, and if they would accept the fact that the Bible’s teachings are infallible, they would adjust their reasoning to line up with the Bible instead of adjusting the Bible to line up with their reasoning. Let me make a final point from one of Olson’s statements. He wrote: “Evangelical theology is generally conservative; it seeks to preserve the best of the Great Tradition of Christian belief and thought while elevating Scripture above tradition.” The point I want to make is this: open theists need to elevate Scripture above their human reasoning.