Christian Apologetics - Lesson 28

Open Theism

Open theists believe that God does not have a perfect knowledge of the future.

Ronald Nash
Christian Apologetics
Lesson 28
Watching Now
Open Theism

Open Theism


I. Why do open theists deny God's perfect knowledge of the future?


II. "There is too much Greek philosophy in classical Christianity."


III. The Open Theist Hermeneutic


IV. Can God change his mind?


V. God's Perfect Knowledge of the Future


VI. Logical Consequences of Open Theism

A. God has no idea if you will be married.

B. God has no idea who you will marry.

C. God cannot know if you will have a happy marriage.

D. God has no idea if you will have children.

E. God can have no plan for your life.

F. God has no idea if your children will be believers.

G. God has no idea who will be in his church.

H. God had no idea that his son would die on a cross.

I. God had no idea that even one person would believe in him.

J. The fact that God even has a church is a matter of luck.

K. God doesn't know who will be born and what will be invented.


VII. How can this kind of God control the world?

  • Introduction to Apologetics.

  • Apologetics involves finding evidence and presenting arguments to defend the Christian faith.

  • Two prominent worldviews are Christian theism and naturalism.

  • The law of non-contradiction states that A cannot be B and non-B at the same time and in the same sense.

  • Explanations and responses to different worldviews.

  • If God is good and all powerful, then why does evil exist?

  • Discussion about how the existence of evil is consistent with God's character.

  • Your noetic structure, presuppositions and view of epistemology are important elements in the formation of your worldview.

  • Discussion of deductive presuppositionalism vs. inductive presuppositionalism.

  • Objections to inductive presuppositionalism.

  • Arguments for and against evidentialism.

  • Arguments for and against foundationalism.

  • Discussion of natural theology.

  • There are valid, sound and cogent arguments for the existence of God, but no coercive proofs.

  • Discussion of different arguments for God's existence.

  • One version of the cosmological argument for God's existence emphasizes God as first in time, another emphasizes God as first in importance.

  • A possible world is a way the real world could have been. Modal logic, propositions, state of affairs and eternal entities are some of the considerations when discussing a possible world.

  • Something is logically possible if its description does not include a logical contradiction. The existence of the laws of knowledge refute the system of naturalism.

  • Middle knowledge is a form of knowledge attributed to God by Molina.

  • Miracles are a dividing line and central to Christianity.

  • David Hume's rational arguments against miracles and responses to those arguments.

  • Two miracles central to Christianity are the incarnation and resurrection.

  • The question of whether or not Jesus is the only savior touches on pluralism, inclusivism and exclusivism.

  • Pluralism is the view that all religions have salvific value.

  • Inclusivism is the view that even though the work of Christ is the only means of salvation, it does not follow that explicit knowledge of Christ is necessary in order for a person to be saved.

  • Salvation is totally the work of God and all children who die in infancy are elect of God.

  • Discussion from a biblical perspective of God's character and attributes.

  • Open theists believe that God does not have a perfect knowledge of the future.

  • Divine omnipotence and divine omniscience are two attributes of God.

  • When contemplating life after death, remember, Jesus has been there and come back. Will you commit your life to him or reject him?

These lectures were given at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida during the fall of 2001.


Dr. Ronald Nash
Christian Apologetics
Open Theism
Lesson Transcript


[00:00:01] The following lecture is provided by biblical training. The speaker is Dr. Ronald Nash. More information is available at WW w dot Biblical training dot org. Now because of time. I'm going to I'm going to we're still on the same topic, but I'm going to start moving towards a set of comments on open theism. And what I want to do in the time that I have is I want to strike to the very heart of open theism and I want to give you some answers to open theism. And I'm going to be very frank, as I always am, much that I say here is heavily dependent on the work of Bruce Weber in his book God's Lesser Glory. Now, before I turn on the overhead projector, I want to make use. Of material that is in your Chapter 14. And what I'm holding in my hands is a Xerox copy of that material. So I'm going to be you know, you may not have that with you. First point I want to make. Concerns this question Why do open theists? Deny God's perfect knowledge of the future. Answer And this is this is this is the whole story here. They have somehow bought into the very questionable and in my view, indefensible view that if God really did have perfect knowledge of the future, human freedom would be sunk. See, these guys are Armenians who believe that the only reason any human being can be saved is because he can exercise his power of free choice. And he can he can accept the redemptive work of Christ. Of course, as we know, as we learned last week, these open theists are also inclusiveness. So you really don't have to accept the redemptive work of Christ to be saved.


[00:02:10] All you have to do is to have faith of any kind whatsoever. According to John Sanders, this is a quotation from his book The God Who Risks. It simply is not and cannot be the case that God knew in advance of the cross that Christ would in fact choose to be given over, to be crucified. God. The father looked down from heaven and saw his son hanging on the cross, and he said, Oops. Oops. We're going to have to switch to plan B. I'm serious. The father did not know that his son would be crucified until all of a sudden. There it is. And his response is, oops, we got to change our plans here. Then it looks as though open theists don't regard the Bible as an errant. The truth is, no, they don't. But they still want to pass as evangelicals. When will that day cease? I don't think it'll take too long. Okay. Like maybe the next meeting, because it is obvious to people in the Evangelical Theological Society that when you start saying things like this, your profession. That you believe in the authority and maybe even the inerrancy of these people don't believe in inerrancy. CLARK Penick doesn't. We know that. But nonetheless, they they want it. They want to find a way to make their position compatible with Scripture. But look at the Scripture here. Christ is the lamb slain from the foundations of the world. What is this nonsense about the Father not knowing that Jesus is going to be given over to be crucified? Christ. The decision to go to the cross was made not in eternity past. It was not for known by God, but in the historical moment when in prayer to the Father, Christ determined then to take this path.


[00:04:29] Christ's death on the cross was not inevitable. So I believe that if a God doesn't, if God doesn't know the future, then He cannot control the future. And therefore, prayer's about the future to God are really are are really improper activities for an open theist. Because if you pray for something to happen tomorrow, God doesn't know what's going to happen tomorrow. And therefore he really can't answer your prayer. Now, years ago, I said that in the presence of some of these young Turks who today would be on and on and Clarke Pinnick side. And they said, oh, no, oh, no. Just because God doesn't know the future, it doesn't follow that he can't control the future. Well, you know, I just I just can't think that way. I don't understand what they're talking about. Okay. Now, this view that the only way to preserve significant human freedom is to deny God's knowledge of the future is, I think, an indefensible position. Now, another point from my notes, that is from your chapter 14. These guys kick us around all the time because they say there's too much. Greek philosophy and our position. Where do you get a timeless God from? You get that from Plato. You know, where do you get this from? You get this from Greek philosophy. Well, let me tell you this. Where do you get this idea that God can't know the future? You get it from Greek philosophy. You get it from Aristotle. And on page 18 of your book, I tell you. It would be Aristotle's book that's called On Interpretation, I think. And he says he says, nobody can know the future because the future hasn't happened. And therefore there are no true propositions about the future. Therefore, nobody can know anything about the future.


[00:06:45] That's Aristotle. And yet that's precisely the position of the open theists. Don't let them get away with this idea that there are no problems here. Now, for a few minutes, there are two things I want to do in the little bit of time we have left. I want to look at their hermeneutic and I want to give you an answer to their hermeneutic because many people think they've got an argument here, but it is very easy to refute. Let me read from the screen Open theists accuse their critics of refusing to bow to what the scriptures say clearly and plainly. According to open theists, people like you and me are guilty of a wrong or even a sinister twisting of the plain sense of scripture. Stop turning the clear meaning of Scripture around, they say, and let the Bible say what it says. And if you want some see some of the many passages quoted in Gregory Boyd's book, God of the Possible. One of the passages that the open theists quote is Genesis 2212. They and they alone take this. Take this scripture at face value. Genesis 2212 Quote God said, Do not lay a hand on the boy. That's Isaac. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God since you have not withheld from me. Your son. Your only son. Let me give you a John Sanders interpretation of Genesis 22. God did not know whether he could trust Abraham. God didn't know. So that's why he gave Abraham that test. Take your son. Your only son. Take him with a lamb. All right. Put him on the altar and slay Isaac. And God withheld his hand. And then God said, Okay, Abraham. Now, I know something that I didn't know before, and that is that you really do have faith in me.


[00:09:01] See, God's knowledge was incomplete. He didn't know the future. He didn't know what Abraham was going to do. Here is the rebuttal. The open theist. Hermeneutic is not a straightforward interpretation of the text. Now, let me let me make this clear. Open theists say God has perfect knowledge of the past. God has perfect knowledge of the future. It's the I'm sorry, the present. It's the future that God doesn't know. And a straightforward reading of this text proves to us that God didn't know the future. Now, here's Bruce. Where's rebuttal? For one thing, he says, We all know that there are times when the straightforward reading of a text cannot be the correct reading of a text. Consider when Jesus said, This is my body. This is my blood. I am the door. Only an idiot. Would take those texts in a straightforward, literal way. Now I'm putting a new overhead up here. If you really do take a straightforward, literal interpretation, as the open theist do, then look at my first comment up here. Genesis 2212. Not only implies that God doesn't know the future, it also tells us that God didn't know the present. Now what where has done is this. He has got the Achilles heel of open theism. He's got the dagger inserted and he's twisting it. See? These guys want us to know that God knows the present and God knows the past. But when you apply their hermeneutic to these texts, their God turns out to be ignorant of the future and the present and the past. Because by the time Abraham gets to the top of that little mountain, God should have known what was in Abraham's heart in the past. He should have been able to read Abraham's mind and Abraham's heart, but he didn't see.


[00:11:23] Now, here's another text. Problems also arise when we apply the open theists. Hermeneutic to other texts, consider Genesis three nine. God comes into the Garden of Eden and he says, Where are you? Where are you now? The open theist points to that text and says, See, God didn't know where Adam was, but are we talking future or present here? Answer We're talk and present. God may not have known where Adam was going to be in 30 seconds, but God was supposed to know where Adam was at that particular moment. What this shows is these people are cheating in their hermeneutic. If we apply the straightforward hermeneutic of Greg Boyd and John Sanders to Genesis three nine serious problems arise. God, no, no. Not only lacks knowledge of the future, he also lacks knowledge of the present. These guys don't want that to happen. See? The passage also denies divine omnipresence, God standing, presumably in one part of the garden. But he has no awareness and he has no omnipresence to to be present in the whole garden. The God of Genesis three nine then, according to their hermeneutic, has spatial location. That's heresy. Other problems from the openness view arise in the case of Genesis 311 when God says to Adam, Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree? Which I commanded you not to eat. Which knowledge is in question here? The knowledge of the past. See? The God of open theism turns out to be just as ignorant about the present and the past as he is ignorant of the future. And he lacks divine omnipresence. Now let's switch the overhead. How can proponents of open theism then avoid these entitlements? Answer by denying their hermeneutic. Now, what are their entanglements? They're gods ignorant about everything past, present and future.


[00:13:44] Their God is not omnipresent. Now I have I don't have time to read all of this, but there are plenty of Scripture texts that talk about God having perfect knowledge of the future. And Rome, Isaiah 40 through 48, would do that. What are we going to do about these texts that suggest that God changed his mind? Here's Exodus chapter 32. So the Lord changed his mind about the harm which he said he would do to his people. Two texts in Scripture state that God is incapable of repenting, that God is incapable of changing His mind, that God is too great to repent in a human sense. Numbers Chapter 23 Verse 19. Now remember their position. God changes His mind. God repents. Now there are verses that suggest that. All right, but how are we going in? How how will we interpret them? Here's numbers 2319. God is not a man that he should lie, nor a son of a man, nor a son of man. That he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? Now, the one I want you to notice is this. There are two things that we are told in this text that God cannot do. One of them is He cannot change his mind and he cannot lie. Open theists say he can change his mind. All right. Now the the position of Bruce, where is this? These two actions, lying and changing one's mind, are lumped together. If we can find even one definitive passage of Scripture that tells us that God cannot. Lie. Then it follows that God cannot change his mind. And we must understand these texts about changing His mind in some kind of rhetorical, non literal way.


[00:15:59] Let's turn then to another passage of Scripture and I hope I'm not confusing you here. Note the parallelism between lying and repenting in the numbers 23 text. If we follow the open theists line of reasoning, we must also believe that as a general rule, God can also lie. See, they're saying, Well, God can't change his mind. Therefore, it follows that God can lie. Fortunately, in this case, God chose not to lie. The text presents a strong parallel between lying and repenting. If other scriptures clearly declare that God cannot lie, then because of the close correlation between lying and changing one's mind, the obvious inference relative to Numbers 12 is that God also cannot repent. Now that text, the one that makes it clear that God cannot lie, is found in Hebrews Chapter 618 that says it is impossible for God to lie. So the argument is because of the close correlation between lying and choosing or changing one's mind, because God cannot lie, then he cannot change his mind. And all of those passages must be interpreted in a non literal or some kind of rhetorical or some kind of anthropological way. God can never lie, and thus he can never repent or change his mind. Now, one other passage here is first Samuel 15. It's the same parallelism. He who is the glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind, for he is not a man that he should change his mind. When Samuel said earlier in that chapter that God repented when he made Saul King, he does not mean that God experiences repentance precisely the way ordinary humans do. God is not a man to experience repentance this way God experiences in quotation marks, repentance His way, the way one experiences repentance in quotation marks, when one is all wise and four knows the entire future perfectly.


[00:18:10] The experience is real, but it is not like finite man experiences it. God does not regard his choices as mistakes that He would do differently if only he four knew what was coming. Rather, he wills to do some things which he then genuinely grieves over in part when the grievous effect comes to pass. And that's a quote from John Piper in a interesting journal article. If you want some additional help. Bob Raymond's Systematic theology book has some good stuff on all of this. Read what Raymond says about Divine Immutability. We would read what Raymond says about these repentance passages, and you're going to find that evangelicals have known for generations how to interpret these passages so that we're not stuck with the errors of open theism. On the question of open theism vs of the gods perfect knowledge of the future. One of the one of the more important ways to defeat, to refute any philosophical position, any theological position is what we call reductio ad absurdum. And there are some variations of this, too. That is, you reduce. You show that a set of beliefs reduced to imply entail absurdity. Or a contradiction, or in the case of somebody masquerading as a biblically faithful Christian. As the open theists are attempting to do, you try to show that their position leads to theological absurdity? Okay. Now the open theist position again. Is the belief that God cannot no future contingents. Let me explain the term future contingent. A future contingent is a future event brought about as a result of human. And we'll put this in quotation marks human free choice. God cannot know the future insofar as it results from human choices. Which open see us want to believe are always indeterminate free human being could or could not.


[00:20:46] A human being might or might not do this particular thing. However, if you read the literature, you're going to find that these open theists fudge all over the place. And one of the reasons they fudge is because even though they really want everybody to believe that this is the case, they cannot help but get uncomfortable at some of the implications of this. And so therefore, they sometimes say, well, maybe God could know some future contingencies, but he chooses not to. Okay. And I'm not going to explore that exercise in game playing because I really do explore that. And I think it's chapter three of the Concept of God book. In the discussion of this material in the introduction of Philosophy book. I point out again how they sometimes hedge their bets and they sometimes imply again that maybe God could but doesn't know this or that. Now, what I want to do here is take them at their word. Let's take a look at this particular claim, and then I want you to see the absurdities. And I want you to do this in terms of one particular set of future contingent actions, and that is the consequences of human procreation. If we exclude. Certain types of actions such as rape and so on. I think it is permissible for us to regard human pre human procreation as a enact of what the open sea US would call free will. At least this is what they would want to say. Now, here are the consequences if God cannot know future contingencies and if the consequences of human and if human procreation is viewed as such a such an action. Then here are some of the consequences, the logical consequences of the open theist position. First of all.


[00:23:16] Let's look at some consequences before procreation enters the picture. Okay. First of all, God, if you are if you guys if you people aren't married yet, God has no idea. Right now. If you ever will be married. Nor does God right now have any idea. Oh, he might be able to guess, but he doesn't know whom you will marry. Nor can God right now know if you will have a successful marriage. A happy marriage. Okay. That's comforting, isn't it? God has no idea what's in my future now. The procreation business. God has no idea if you will have children. God doesn't know. Because as far as God is concerned, the relationship that you may be in right now might fall apart. And maybe in three or four years, you know, you'll find someone else and this other person or you or what it may not be able to have children. God doesn't know. God can have no plan for your life. See? But now. Let's say hypothetically, that you will get married, or if you're married now, that you will have children. God has no idea now if your children will become believers. Why? Because, again, according to the open theist, salvation is understood in an Armenian kind of way, and therefore God. And therefore, the likelihood that a possible future human being will exercise his or her free will in the right way and become a believer. And that's unknown to God right now. That also then implies that God has no idea at this moment which human being's present and future will be in his church. Got it. The the final constitution, the final composition of God's church is to God Himself at this moment in the present unknown. Okay. Moreover, if we go back to the past.


[00:25:57] God. At the moment of the cross had no idea. Of course, we already noticed last week that according to open theists, the God who Risks had no idea that his son would die on a cross. That's according to John Sanders. But at that particular moment, when Jesus was dying on the cross, God had no idea. God had no assurance that even one person would come to believe in Jesus. Therefore, at the moment of the crucifixion, God faced the risky possibility that the entire plan of redemption could have been gone. Could have. Could have been accomplished so far as God's work is concerned, you see, because election and all of the rest isn't part of God's plan of salvation, because that's a denial of free will. So God might not have had a church at all. And one of the open theists, Bill Hasker, who teaches at Huntingdon College, actually says, and I quote him in the book, he says, The fact that God even has a church today is a matter of plain, dumb luck. Now, I want to suggest to you that that is a different worldview than any of us can find in the Bible. That's a different God. This is a different theological system. And I want to maintain I really think this is really the fruits of our many. And as a. It's not an accident. This is what our minion ism actually entails. Moreover. If God doesn't know what human beings will come to exist in his future. Then God had no idea what things, what new and creative things those unborn, unknowable human beings might create someday. God didn't know, according to the premises of open theism, that Alva Edison would be born. So one day God had to be looking down and there's Edison playing around in his laboratory, and God says, What's that? It's called an electric light bulb.


[00:28:28] Okay. Now, I'm not I'm. I'm not teach I'm not teaching blasphemy here. I'm just trying to spin out the logical consequences of open theism. Then another day God looks down and he says. What are those two guys doing on the beach in North Carolina? They're flying. They're flying. What should we. Well, they're calling that an airplane. Well, isn't that interesting? Television. Telephone. Nuclear weapon. The World Trade Towers. God didn't know those buildings would exist. Now ask yourself this If God really is ignorant of all of this vast dimension of things and possibilities in his future at different times in the past, how can this kind of God control the world? I don't know. But I'll tell you this. This is this is weird stuff. So you read what I say about open theism. Thank you for listening to this lecture. Brought to you by biblical training, dawg. Your prayers and financial support enable us to provide a biblical and theological education that all people around the world can access. Blessings. As you continue to study and live out your faith and as you grow in your relationship with the Lord.