An Open Letter to An Open Theist

Dear Open Theist,

I really want to believe that we know and worship the same God, the One we read about in both the Old and New Testaments.  My first exposure to your view of God’s knowledge of the future came from those who oppose it, so I dismissed it in toto as heretical.

Now I don’t believe my first reaction was the correct one.  I should have done the wise thing and read your actual writings and not what someone else had to say.  Well, I began reading what you have to say, and as a result, a few questions have emerged.

[ I’ve taken several quotes from Greg Boyd’s blog on Open Theism ]

1. You affirm that God is all knowing, yet you say “that part of the reality which God perfectly knows consists of possibilities as well as actualities.”  Isn’t this a logical contradiction?  How can God be all knowing  when there are events that remain “possibilities as well as actualities”?

2. You affirm the absolute perfection of God, yet you say, “I do not see, however, that Scripture teaches that the future must be predetermined either in God’s mind or in God’s will for God to be perfect.”  It appears to me that you’re both affirming and denying the absolute perfection of God.  For some reason I’m getting the feeling that you’ve actually placed God in your theological box.  Are these observations of mine accurate?  What am I not getting?

3. Regarding the power of prayer, you affirm that “because my view allows for the future to be somewhat open, I believe it makes the best sense out of the urgency and efficaciousness which Scripture attaches to prayer.”

I noticed that you have created the classic either/or fallacy: it’s either the future is “somewhat open” or “the urgency and efficaciousness which Scripture attaches to prayer” do not make sense.  Aren’t you presuming upon God since he has hidden certain things from us, including how prayer actually works?  Aren’t you also presuming to know the future by saying that it is “somewhat open”?  How do you know that?  Isn’t that up to God?  But again, I’m still trying to understand this God of yours.

4. Regarding biblical prophecy, you affirm that “God can and does determine and predict the future whenever it suits his sovereign purposes to do so,” yet you say, “But I deny that this logically entails, or that Scripture teaches, that the future is exhaustively determined.”  It seems to me that Scripture does not support your objection:

Remember the former things, those of long ago;
I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me.

I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come
.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.’

From the east I summon a bird of prey;
from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose.
What I have said, that I will bring about;
what I have planned, that I will do
.  (Isa 46:9-11, TNIV, emphasis added)

It appears that the prophet has made some absolute statements about God’s knowledge of the future.  Why can’t I conclude from these verses that God has “exhaustively determined” the future?  What am I not getting?

Open theist, I am honestly trying to understand your view of God and the future, but the above questions were on my mind.  I’m looking forward to your reply, and I really want to believe that we know and worship the same God.

In His Son’s Name,

TCR

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17 Responses to An Open Letter to An Open Theist

  1. Bryan L says:

    I’d love to share some thoughts but if I do I won’t be able to until later on today after I get off from work.

    Bryan

  2. Peter Kirk says:

    TC, I am not an open theist. But I don’t see Isaiah 46 as implying that God exhaustively determining every aspect of the future, rather that there are specific plans which he has which he is determined to put into practice – and because he is omnipotent he can reassure anyone that he definitely will do them.

    Think of this example. You, TC, are omnipotent over this blog (if we ignore the possibility of intervention by your hosting provider). You can write that you plan to write a post tomorrow about such-and-such and this will definitely happen, and there is nothing within the blog world that can stop that happening. Indeed you may already have written the post and set it to appear tomorrow, which means that it can’t even be stopped by you dropping dead. Nevertheless you have chosen to allow comments on this blog, which you cannot predict even though you can delete or edit them. So you have not exhaustively determined everything that happens on this blog.

    My view of God’s activity, which is probably not a strictly open theist one, is something similar: he allows things to happen in the world which are not decided on by him, but he has complete control over them and will not allow them to thwart his overall purpose.

  3. Roger Mugs says:

    good post TC… i look forward to more replies… curious

  4. Stan McCullars says:

    A passage that comes to mind is Matthew 10:29-30
    Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.

  5. tc robinson says:

    Bryan L, I’m looking forward to your thoughts.

    Peter said:

    TC, I am not an open theist. But I don’t see Isaiah 46 as implying that God exhaustively determining every aspect of the future, rather that there are specific plans which he has which he is determined to put into practice – and because he is omnipotent he can reassure anyone that he definitely will do them.

    Peter, Are you open to Open theism? Sounds that way to me. 🙂

    Think of this example. You, TC, are omnipotent over this blog (if we ignore the possibility of intervention by your hosting provider). You can write that you plan to write a post tomorrow about such-and-such and this will definitely happen, and there is nothing within the blog world that can stop that happening. Indeed you may already have written the post and set it to appear tomorrow, which means that it can’t even be stopped by you dropping dead. Nevertheless you have chosen to allow comments on this blog, which you cannot predict even though you can delete or edit them. So you have not exhaustively determined everything that happens on this blog.

    Well, your analogy breaks down at certain levels: 1. I’m not God. 2. And do we know exactly how the omniscience of God works?

    Peter, you might as well be an open theist. 🙂

    My view of God’s activity, which is probably not a strictly open theist one, is something similar: he allows things to happen in the world which are not decided on by him, but he has complete control over them and will not allow them to thwart his overall purpose.

    Peter, I too hold this view of God.

    Roger, I’m willing to learn on this subject.

    Stan, we’ll have to allow an open theist to reflect on those verse.

  6. Ferg says:

    I look forward to interacting with this post. Great one TC.
    Time is not on my side tonight, but I will try to set some aside tomorrow to interact. I leave to do 2 weeks of incredibly exciting ministry in Germany on Sunday so I definitely won’t have time then.
    There are plenty of verses I would like to ask you to explain to me in return, such as Ezekiel 33:13-15

    If I tell the righteous man that he will surely live, but then he trusts in his righteousness and does evil, none of the righteous things he has done will be remembered; he will die for the evil he has done. And if I say to the wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ but he then turns away from his sin and does what is just and right- If he gives back what he took in pledge for a loan, returns what he has stolen, follows the decrees that give life, and does no evil, he will surely live; he will not die.

    But perhaps we can leave that discussion for another post!

    Blessings…
    Ferg

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  8. Peter Kirk says:

    TC, I’m not sure if I’m an Open Theist or not. I don’t think so. My analogy of the blog was only for the sake of argument, not my fixed position. See my post on this subject linked to above, taking this model a bit further, and then decide if you need to give me the sign of the cross and stake through the heart treatment, as you would to one character I just wrote into my blog.

  9. tc robinson says:

    Ferg, all the best on your campaign, and I hope to hear from you. Thanks again.

    Peter, I just left a comment on your post. No need for the sign of the cross and stake. 🙂

  10. Bryan L says:

    TC:

    1.) You said: “How can God be all knowing when there are events that remain “possibilities as well as actualities”?”

    I think Boyd is speaking about God’s knowledge of the present and the past here specifically. The main philosophical question is whether there is a future to know or whether it is impossible to know something that doesn’t yet exist. It’s kind of similar to the question of if God is all powerful and can do anything could he create a rock that is too heavy for him to lift.

    Boyd sees the future as partially open and partially settled (settled is the key word here). The closed settled are what God has determined no matter what to bring about and is powerful and knowledgeable enough to bring about. The 2nd coming would be an example of this but there are other things that we don’t know about.

    2.) I think this issue is a problem of semantics and what different people mean by “perfect” and what it means for God to be perfect, as well as “perfect’s” theological baggage and association with impassibility or immutability, etc.

    3.) you said: “I noticed that you have created the classic either/or fallacy: it’s either the future is “somewhat open” or “the urgency and efficaciousness which Scripture attaches to prayer” do not make sense.”

    I’m not really sure what you mean by the either/or fallacy except that you seem to be saying he is setting up a false dichotomy. That may be but if you think it is a false dichotomy then what do you see as the alternative to a partial open future as an explanation to the urgency and efficaciousness of prayer? Do you think it makes sense praying about the shape of the future which is already settled?

    You said: “Aren’t you also presuming to know the future by saying that it is “somewhat open”?”

    No that is not saying you know the future. Its just speaking about the nature of it, not it’s actual contents.

    You said: “Isn’t that up to God?”

    Isn’t what up to God? The fact that it is partially open? You seem a bit confusing here and it actually looks like you’ve slightly switched topics or concerns.

    4.) You said: “It seems to me that Scripture does not support your objection”

    Maybe some scripture doesn’t, some definitely does. Which gets hermeneutical priority? Whether or not this verse that you brought up can be read in a way that it is favorable to Open Theism (or at least not threatening to it) doesn’t really matter to me since there are others that definitely do. However, I’m willing to call the scripture debate a draw. But I think the issue will be settled by taking other fields into account such as philosophy, science, experience, etc. That is one of the strengths of Boyd’s books that he addresses more than just the biblical issue and makes a convincing case for why Open Theism makes sense when you consider these other fields. And this is one of the weaknesses of Roy’s book in that he only addresses the Biblical questions and often ends up saying well these verses that seem to support Open Theism have to be reinterpreted in light of the ones that don’t. All he shows in his book is that he gives hermeneutical priority to those verses that don’t support Open Theism.

    Honestly I’m not trying to convert anyone to Open Theism. I realize for many it’s offensive because of what we believe it means to be God and if they want to go on believing the classic conception of God then I’m cool with that. However some aren’t so offended (such as me) and they even believe it makes more sense of the Biblical witness as well as other fields. In the end I just want there to be better understanding of it and some charity to those who hold to Open Theism (which you and others have shown).

    Thanks,
    Bryan

  11. tc robinson says:

    Bryan L, I appreciate the response, but I can’t engage right now. I’m off to see Batman. When I get back. 🙂

  12. tc robinson says:

    Bryan L said:

    I think Boyd is speaking about God’s knowledge of the present and the past here specifically. The main philosophical question is whether there is a future to know or whether it is impossible to know something that doesn’t yet exist. It’s kind of similar to the question of if God is all powerful and can do anything could he create a rock that is too heavy for him to lift.

    Boyd affirms that God is all knowing, so I don’t think I’m misunderstanding him. It is either God is all knowing or not. But Boyd wants to affirm and yet deny this at the same time.

    If the problem is about the future not being known by God, then how do we handle prophecy and so on?

    I think this issue is a problem of semantics and what different people mean by “perfect” and what it means for God to be perfect, as well as “perfect’s” theological baggage and association with impassibility or immutability, etc.

    Perfection is perfection. The best thing we can do as humans is to admit that we don’t get it because of our fallen state.

    Do you think it makes sense praying about the shape of the future which is already settled?

    At this point, I think open theists have a good point. I’m open to this one. 🙂

    Honestly I’m not trying to convert anyone to Open Theism. I realize for many it’s offensive because of what we believe it means to be God and if they want to go on believing the classic conception of God then I’m cool with that. However some aren’t so offended (such as me) and they even believe it makes more sense of the Biblical witness as well as other fields. In the end I just want there to be better understanding of it and some charity to those who hold to Open Theism (which you and others have shown).

    As I admitted in the beginning of the letter, my first response to open theism was reactionary and not well-thought out. I’m willing to learn.

    Each generation of readers of Scripture must question the conclusions of the previous generations. I’m for the questioning but not the total abandoning. 🙂

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  14. Bryan L says:

    I hope you have the time to read more of Boyd. He addresses many of your criticisms and concerns, but again I’m not really concerned if you convert or not, or you continue to believe it’s wrong. I just hope you understand it better when you critique it and that you aren’t setting up any straw men and passing on misinformation about what Open Theists believe..

    Blessings,
    Bryan

  15. tc robinson says:

    Bryan L, that’s the whole point. I think I’m equip enough to read Boyd and decide for myself. I’m looking into it. I’m not into casting it off as heresy without understanding more of it. 🙂

  16. Clare M says:

    Interesting discussion! Bryan made some fair points in #10 I think and answered most of what I noted in your original post TC.

    The discussion about perfection was an interesting one I thought.
    TC, you said “Perfection is perfection. The best thing we can do as humans is to admit that we don’t get it because of our fallen state.”

    I think it _is_ worth asking, by what standard do we define perfection? Do we define God by perfection or perfection by God? I imagine we’d like to do the latter – in the same way as we’d want to define good in the light of God – but difficult to avoid the former in practice I think. And, as Bryan indicated, our idea of Godly ‘perfection’ may have baggage attached that isn’t really Biblical (impassibility, immutability etc).
    – But how _do_ we define perfection in the light of God, when our view is so limited? When “we don’t get it because of our fallen state”?

    In fact I know what Boyd would say to that, because I’ve heard him say it many times. He’d say, “God looks like Jesus Christ”, a man dying on a cross for those who persecuted him. This is how we know what perfection is, what good is, what love is. This is Boyd’s most convincing – and attractive – assertion and one that none of us will deny, I’m sure. This is the fixed centre on which everything must hang, that whatever we’d like to say in this discussion it _must_ come down, in the end, to this: Perfection = God = Jesus Christ

    But perhaps I’ve brought the discussion off-topic slightly! Apologies if so.

    In terms of your original points 1 and 4, Peter made some clear points in #2 about the language of Isaiah 46. In the same way I doubt open theists like Boyd would have any trouble affirming those verses. As Brian mentioned, Boyd sees the future as partly open and partly settled (in some significant ways).

    I recently wrote a post on my own blog about God’s knowledge of future possibilities, which I hope will shed some light on the question of how God could know the future and yet leave some aspects ‘unsettled’ – this, as I understand it is the type of ‘openness’ that Boyd is espousing.

    Interesting times. I’m glad there are people around who are still open to discussing this without flinging charges of heresy around!

    Blessings,
    Clare

  17. tc robinson says:

    Clare, I’m not ready to label open theism a heresy just yet. And I may never come to that. I understand the issues being debate. And I do not see them as heretical at all.

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