(This is the 2nd in a series on Open Theism)
The Curse of Open Theism
Genuine human freedom would be a morally neutral will. I could freely choose from any number of options without any outside interference. That identical set of circumstances may produce any number of choices.
I say genuine human freedom is a myth because they fail to account for, or minimize, depravity and its effects on human freedom. They ignore the Bible’s assessment that we are slaves to sin and enemies of God. God’s Word declares that we do not possess genuine human freedom. Their theological system is built to protect a philosophical idea we do not find in Scripture.
Jonathan Edwards called the will “the mind choosing”. We choose, freely, according to our character. Unfortunately, we are sinners. We make our choices on the basis of our impure motives, desires and longings. We are not morally neutral!
However, this assumption of genuine human freedom affects how Open Theists interpret some key Bible passages. In Genesis 28 they believe that God actually learned that Abraham feared Him. They use a “face value” model of interpretation. They claim God had to learn this piece of information about Abraham by testing him. This despite the fact they still claim God has full knowledge of the past and present. If God has full knowledge of the present, He would have known that Abraham feared Him. If we have genuine human freedom, this test is irrelevant. God cannot base any of His future actions on Abraham’s fear and faithfulness because God does not know if Abraham will continue to fear God and be faithful in the future. Tested again, Abraham could choose differently.
In his book God’s Lesser Glory, Bruce Ware does an excellent job examining these and other passages related to this discussion. He shows that a “face value” method of interpretation would strip God of His present and past knowledge (He had to see if Sodom and Gemorrah were really that bad). It would also mean that God is not present everywhere at every moment (He had to go to Sodom and Gemorrah!). They fail to test their interpretation of these passages against the clear teaching of Scripture elsewhere. We do this because God cannot lie. As a result, Scripture will not contradict itself. The clear passages illumine the unclear passages.
So, part of the curse of Open Theism is that it is a slippery slope whereby God’s glory continues to decrease. The same method of interpretation that robs us of God’s knowledge of the future robs us of other attributes of God. We end up with a god more like ourselves, and less like the Savior, Redeemer and Defender we need. They give us a god who could not know the Fall would happen, Jesus would die on the cross, Peter would deny Jesus three times (how’d he even know Peter would be questioned three times), that Hezekiah would live 15 more years (that is a whole lot of possible accidents, injuries, illnesses and possible assassination attempts), much less that you would exist in order to be adopted in Christ. The Bible, and our faith, begins to unravel.
Bruce Ware also does an excellent job building the biblical case for God’s foreknowledge (in the Calvinistic sense). In Isaiah 40-48, God declares that what separates Him for the numerous idols the people worshipped is the fact that He does declare the future. He points to past prophecies that have come true. He points to past prophecies that are about to come true. He is specific about many of those. In order for God to bring His purpose to completion, He must know and control the choices of a vast number of volitional beings. The mystery is how He can do this “without violating the will of the creature” as the Westminster Confession of Faith asserts. The claims of Open Theism that God does not know the future do not stand up to the teaching of Scripture.
The curse of Open Theism is not limited to theology proper. It has a practical outworking in the lives of those who believe it (Bruce Ware is once again extremely helpful). This is why Paul told Timothy “watch your life and doctrine closely”. One area of concern is prayer.
Proponents of Open Theism declare that prayer really matters. They believe that prayer really matters only if we have genuine human freedom. In prayer, our relationship with God is built. We are able to share our feelings and desires. In their view, foreknowledge would mean that our prayers do not change anything.
In Reformed Theology (summed up in the Westminster Confession of Faith) prayer has two primary purposes (at least). God has not just ordained what will happen, but also how. Some the instruments God uses to accomplish His will are the prayers of His people. Our prayers matter, even in a theological system where God is in complete control.
Prayer is also related to our adoption as God’s children. We express our needs, longings and feelings to our Father who expresses His loving involvement with us by responding to our prayers. One need not accept the views of Open Theism to have a prayer life that matters and builds one’s relationship with God.
Open Theism seems to forget that God knows everything past and present. Our prayers are significant, in their opinion, because God learns something new. But He knows what we think, feel and desire. If God’s knowledge of the future makes prayer useless (as they claim), so would God’s complete knowledge of the present. We don’t need to pray because God already knows.
Their own argument backfires (as if the purpose of prayer were to inform God of something). God will not learn something new which will cause Him to change His mind. The point would rather seem to be integrity in our relationship with God and ourselves. God seems to be letting us know our hearts better. But they insist on using a human model for communication between God and man. This is part of the same problem we saw before- making God in our image!
Their views once again slight God’s wisdom. Why does God need our help to make decisions? He certainly possesses more complete knowledge than we do, is wiser than us, and has much purer motives than us. To believe that God’s decision making process is incomplete (like mine) without input from others does not make any sense. It exalts my knowledge and wisdom, and minimizes God’s. Compare their views with Isaiah 40:13-14. No one is competent to be God’s counselor. And God has no need of a counselor. Open Theism again falls short of God’s glory as revealed in Scripture.
Beyond this, what happens when things turn out to be difficult? Are we to surmise, as they do, that God was mistaken (since He couldn’t see the future)? Our disappointment shifts from our circumstances to God’s character. We depart from Paul’s conviction that God is at work in all our circumstances to make us like Jesus (however painful that might be). We would be forced to believe that God is a good-hearted bungler who can’t be trusted to protect us. As a result suffering has little or no meaning in Open Theism. God’s plan can be ambushed either by Satan or your neighbor. God’s glory is assaulted by Open Theism once again. They reject the biblical teaching that God is absolutely in control and that God is absolutely good. The Bible asserts both, not one at the expense of the other as Openness Theology does. Once again it fails to measure up to the standard of Scripture.
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