Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Heresy of Open Theism (Part 1)

Yesterday I posted a sermon on the dangers of Open Theism so I thought it would be good to take a few minutes today to explain what Open Theism is and why I view it as heretical. The article below is from the On Doctrine website and it explains why this theology is flawed and shows why it is rejected by those from a Reformed viewpoint and who embrace historic Biblical Christianity.
Open Theism is a relatively recent doctrine with its origin attributed mainly to Clark Pinnock around 1980 and recently to Dr. Greg Boyd, professor of theology at Bethel College, the educational arm of the Baptist General Conference. The doctrine has as its primary goal, a redefinition of the nature and character of God. Its foundational principle, which allows God to be redefined in numerous ways, is the proposition that God cannot know the future, because the future has not yet occurred and is therefore unknowable. From this premise it is stated that God can still predict certain events in the future and make plans for the future, since He has certain abilities to know how man operates and thinks, but since He cannot know what the future choice of man will actually be, the reality is that He cannot know with certainty what the future will bring or whether He will be able to accomplish the plans that He has made. In this theology, God is a victim of time, being confined to the present, and also a captive of, and subject to, the decisions of man. Because of His deficiencies in knowledge, God does not always do the right thing or make the right decision and is capable of causing unwaranted pain and suffering in the lives of individuals. The God of Open Theism is not sovereign, not perfect, can and does make mistakes, as a result of imperfect knowledge, for which He apologizes and regrets.

The fundamental flaw in the theology is also its basic claim, that God cannot know the future. When the foundation is defective, then the doctrine derived from that foundation is defective also. Open Theism defines God within the confines of the existing material universe in which man lives, but which God created. The assumption is made that God does not exist outside of this material universe, but He exists within, and is subject to, His own creation rather than the creation being subject to Him. It is also assumed that there are God-created entities that have greater authority than the God who created them. It was God who created the element of time in relation to this universe, to which the life and existence of all proponents of Open Theism must submit. It is the Open Theist who cannot know the future because they are subject to the properties and boundaries of the universe established by God.

The proponents of Open Theism would presume that the element of time, although created by God, somehow exerts a superior power over His ability to know, by restricting his knowledge through the means of confining Him to a literal present state of being, within a finite creation. By this view, the proponents of Open Theism deny the unlimited power of God to know the beginning from the end and fail to understand the statement of God in Exodus 3:14, "I Am Who I Am." It is God who is, standing always in the present, transcending the boundaries of time itself. Rather than God being subject to the present state of time, it is time itself that is subject to the eternal present state of God, who is past, present and future all at the same time and who sees the beginning through the end always in the present. The Open Theist does not consider the fact that time is a transient entity, having a beginning and ending subject to the good pleasure of God.

This universe and time, from their beginning to end, are encompassed by the unknowable and incomprehensible power and majesty of God who created all and continues to uphold all by His power. It escapes the reasoning of the Open Theist that God is greater than this universe and its limitations, and is greater than their ability to define and understand the God who was and is, even when this universe had not been created. By what measure was God's knowledge limited prior to His creation of the universe and time? How is it that God becomes a servant to His own created entities? Time itself is a subjective entity even in this material universe. Time at one place can be different from that in another; to the person traveling in space at light speed, time may even stand still for them, while the rest of the universe continues to age at what appears to be a frantic pace.

Was God constrained by some law greater than Himself to make the measure of time as it appears? Could he not have changed that measure, so that what now appears as a year could be a fraction of a second or a million years? How is the infinite God limited to the finite boundaries of His own creation? God has created a universe at His good pleasure and He can and will change that universe at His good pleasure, including the fabric of time itself. God is the sovereign ruler of all that is known and all that is unknown, in this universe and whatever infinitude of spheres in which He exists. He created the universe out of nothing, by His power and He upholds its operation by His power. God created time by His power, and He determines whether it continues or ceases by His power.

The open theist engages in a myopic, self-centered delusion by believing that their thoughts and subsequent decisions have the power to change the course of God's determined will. The universe in which the open theist exists, and its consequent inclusion of time, is but an infinitesimal speck, itself confined, hidden and lost within the majesty and infinity of the God who is "I Am."

The hidden agenda of Open Theism is apparent, because it is opening the door for a unification of what are now many divergent beliefs. Open Theism can embrace the Mormon church, which is desperately seeking to appear to be mainstream Christianity, and its concept of God who is imperfect and continually in a state of learning. Recently, Gordon Hinckley, Prophet and President of the Mormon church, has equivocated on the historic Mormon doctine that man can become a god. Consequently, their teaching that the god of this universe was once a man, might eventually be placed in their archives of convenient forgetfulness, opening the way to a connection with mainstream Christianity. The Positive Confession, Word of Faith proponents, such as Kenneth Hagin and Kenneth Copeland, who claim that words and faith have superior power over the will of God and can control the actions of God, and many, many groups holding to Arminian theology in which God is subject to the choice of man, could easily embrace Open Theism with only minor adjustments. With the charismatic experince having already united many Protestant and Catholic groups, the meeting of the charismatic (which is exclusively Arminian in theology) and Open Theistic theologies could further bring about a unity of unprecedented magnitude. To be mainstream is not necessarily to adopt a biblical foundation, and in most cases that is the case. Unity can always be achieved by adopting the lowest common denominator which, in the majority of cases, is to deny the absolute sovereignty of God. Although masquerading under the cloak of historic protestant orthodox belief, Open Theism is a very sinister and deceitful heresy of the highest magnitude.
Anything that takes away from the Sovereignty and Majesty of God must be rejected.

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Bob McCluskey said...

It's always a bad sign when someone opens a criticism of something by misrepresenting the thing that is to be criticized. For example, your quote states:

"Its [open theism] foundational principle, which allows God to be redefined in numerous ways, is the proposition that God cannot know the future, because the future has not yet occurred and is therefore unknowable."

I've read much of what open view theists say and, when I read this quote, I was pretty sure that it was wrong. Note this quote from Greg Boyd's web page about open view theism:

"Open view theists believe that the future exists partly as actualities (future events which God sovereignly determines to bring about) and partly as possibilities (aspects of the future which God sovereignly allows his creatures to bring about)."

In other words God sometimes chooses to determine the future and He sometimes chooses to allow humans to make choices that determine the future. When He determines the future, He knows what will happen. When He chooses to allow us to make choices that will determine the future, those are real choices. In such cases the future is open until the choices are made.

I come from a reformed background and for years I have heard reformed apologists do great damage to scripture in their attempts to prevent it from saying that God gives real choices to humans and that He is affected by what humans do. Open view theism has finally allowed me to believe exactly what scripture says without compromising God's omnipotence, omniscience or sovereignty. God knows everything He chooses to know and He does whatever He chooses to do, by whatever means He chooses to do it.

Now, if you will start your critique of open theism over again based on its actual teachings (as represented by Dr. Boyd's web site), I'll be interested in what you have to say about it. Thanks!

Chris said...


First if all, thank you for stopping by.

In response to your comment I will just say this, the quote you referenced was actually used by an open theist that I was debating about a year ago in his defense of Open Theism. This may not be what Greg Boyd teaches, but it is what (at least some) Open Theist's think.

God Bless,