Openness Theology (Part One)

On 4 December 1926, Albert Einstein wrote a letter to Max Born describing his difficulties coming to terms with Quantum mechanics. In it he said, “God does not play dice with the universe.”[1] The quip that often follows is, “If he did, he’d win.”

That is the basic idea people have of God. C. S. Lewis says, “Everyone who believes in God at all, believes that He knows what you and I are going to do tomorrow.”[2] Traditional Christian theism has always affirmed the scope or perfection of God’s knowledge includes the future.

In the last thirty years there have been a growing number of theologians calling themselves mainstream evangelicals, who are challenging this conception. Their claim is that God does not have exhaustive knowledge of the future contingent propositions: God’s mind is, as it were, not settled on some questions regarding what will happen, but open. Thus the name they have chosen for themselves is Open Theism or Openness Theology (OT). The specific type of future contingent propositions they have in mind are the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (CCFs).[3] Moreover, they think this idea is more faithful to the revelation given in scripture than the traditional view.

Outspoken scholarly proponents of Open Theism include Gregory Boyd, John Sanders, David Basinger, William Hasker and, most famously, Clark Pinnock. Historically what is new is that this view is no longer isolated to a small area of Christendom or on the periphery of Christian thought and discussion.

Before turning to a refutation, it will be worthwhile taking the advice of Alan R. Rhoda, of the University of Navada, Las Vagas. In his paper, Generic Open Theism and Some Variants Thereof, he warns of conflating commitments of specific variants of Open Theism with what he calls Generic Open Theism (GOT). For this he distinguishes five minimal commitments for Openness Theology. The first four are: (1) Theism, [4] (2) Future Contingency, (3) Divine Epistemic Openness, and (4) EC incompatibility.

The third is implicitly affirmed by the defining characteristics of (1), (2) and (4), yet needs to be made explicit because it has been made “the central dialectic” of the debate.[5] For clarity we can construct a syllogism.

1)     God exists.
2)     There are future contingents. (i.e. The future is causally open).[6]
4)     It is impossible that the future be epistemically settled for God in any respect in which it is causally open. (i.e. If the future is causally open, it is impossible for God to know the future).

Therefore, (modus ponems, 2&4)

3)     The future is epistemically open for God.

Thus the proponent of OT will accept both (2) and (4) and therefore (3), and the objector to OT will reject (3) and therefore must deny either (2) or (4). By denying (2) one sides with the determinist school of Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Edwards. By denying (4) one sides with the EC incompatabilist school of Ockham, Molina, or Arminius. Under Rhoda’s schema, GOT is placed between both schools by affirming what each school denies, namely (2) and (4).

Millard J. Erickson, could well agree with Rhoda’s warning and clarification. He would however protest positioning OT in the middle ground between Calvin and Ariminius, for GOT steps beyond the bounds of orthodoxy by denying that which unites both schools: that God’s knowledge of future contingents is exhaustive.[7]

At least two important corollaries follow from Rhoda’s clarification. Firstly, GOT is committed to divine temporality with creation. This is because God undergoes intrinsic change as his knowledge changes. This happens either when any state of affair X at future time t* comes to pass, or becomes causally closed. Second, GOT is committed to divine passability in as far as God must undergo intrinsic change as his epistemic states change.[8]

Thus if you have reason to think that God is either atemporal with creation or impassable in his epistemic states, you have reason to believe that Open Theism is false. Norman Geisler argues against OT with this method on Scriptural grounds with Thomistic arguments.[9]

A fifth and important distinctive of Generic Open Theism remains, namely;

5)     AC incompatibility.

This condition states that future contingent propositions cannot be alethically settled and causally open. In other words, if X is at t* causally open, then X is neither true nor false. Insofar as there are future contingents, to affirm (5) one either needs to deny the Principle of Bivalence applies to X at t*, or else affirm that X at t* is not contradictory at all, but only contrary. Alternatively, some Open Theists have rejected (5) by affirming that future contingent propositions are alethically settled and epistemically open for they cannot be known in principle.

This last alternative is labeled limited foreknowledge, and entails a redefining of omniscience. Instead of God knowing all and only true propositions (O), God only knows all propositions that it is logically possible to know (O“). William Hasker has defended this variant of OT.[10] William Lane Craig explains how this is an unacceptable “cooking of the books.” First, he states that any adequate definition must accord with the intuitive understanding of the concept. Second, he points out that omniscience is a categorical and not a modal notion. It is not merely the capability of knowing all truths, but actually knowing all truths. Third, he states that the only sufficient condition for a proposition to be known is that it is true, thus (O“) collapses back into (O).[11] One therefore should be honest and simply deny that God has maximal knowledge, thus entailing a denial of (1).

In addition, a principled limitation of God’s foreknowledge (without a denial that future contingent propositions have a truth-value or are uniformly false) requires a denial that “Truth supervenes of Being.” Since this entails a denial of the correspondence theory of truth, most OTs reject limited foreknowledge, for the consequence is far too heavy to bear.[12]

The second and third variety of OT are labeled Non-bivalentist and Bivalentist. Each view accepts that God’s foreknowledge is exhaustive. It can do this by denying “X at t*” and “¬X at t*” is either true or false. The Non-bivalentist OT accomplishes this by denying Bivalence and contending that the ‘future’ is a set of multitudes of unsettled branches of possibilities rather than a specific sequence of events. For further support different appeals have been made to the A-theory of time, Presentism and Quantum Indeterminacy.[13] The Bivalentist OT accepts the standard logic but maintains “X at t*” and “¬X at t*” are both false. Instead, “either X or ¬X might obtain at t*” is true. Consequently, Gregory A. Boyd argues that the contemporary debate has more to do with the doctrine of creation than it does the doctrine of God. Specifically, about what constitutes the content of creation rather than the content of God’s foreknowledge.[14]

A thorough refutation of OT will have to engage at least three different areas. These will be, (1) Hermeneutics and the scriptural data, (2) Theological consequences,[15] and (3) Philosophical objections. In the next installment I will advance my own brief analysis as to why GOT is philosophically flawed.


Footnotes

[1] This quotation is actually a paraphrased version of the following excerpt. “Quantum mechanics is certainly imposing. But an inner voice tells me that it is not yet the real thing. The theory says a lot, but does not really bring us any closer to the secret of the ‘old one’. I, at any rate, am convinced that He does not throw dice.” The Born-Einstein Letters (translated by Irene Born) (Walker and Company, New York, 1971).

[2] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: MacMillan, 1960), 148.

[3] CCF = def. What any creature Y would freely do if placed in any circumstance S.

[4] By which he means classical monotheism, “God exists necessarily and possesses a maximal set of compossible great-making properties, including maximal power, knowledge, and goodness. He created the world ex nihilo and can unilaterally intervene in it as he pleases.” Alan R. Rhoda, “Generic Open Theism and Some Variants Thereof,” Religious Studies 44 (2008): 227

[5] Ibid., 229

[6] Rhoda explains, “the future is causally open at time t with respect to state of affairs X and future time t* if and only if, given all that exists as of time t, it is really possible both that X obtains at t* and that X does not obtain at t*. (In other words, whether X obtains at t* or not is, as of t, a future contingent.)” See “Generic Open Theism and Some Variants Thereof,” Religious Studies 44 (2008): 228.

[7] Millard J. Erickson, What Does God Know and When Does He Know It? The current Controversy over Divine Foreknowledge (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 13.

[8] Whether God can change with respect to his will, his feelings, or his nature is optional, it not being a distinctive of GOT. Rhoda notes that GOT is not committed to impassibility in God’s nature, for it is committed to Theism. This however, this doesn’t seem to me to follow. He must therefore mean by “Theism,” a monotheism conjoined with a specific element of the doctrine of impassibility.

[9] See Norman Geisler, Creating God in the Image of Man? (Rockville, MD: Bethany House, 1997). See also, Norman L. Geisler and H. Wayne House, The Battle For God: Responding to the Challenge of Neotheism (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001).

[10] William Hasker God, Time, and Knowledge (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 1989), 187; idem ‘The foreknowledge conundrum’, International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion 50 (2001), 97-114, esp. 110-111.

[11] James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, eds., Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 138.

[12] Alan R. Rhoda, “Generic Open Theism and Some Variants Thereof,” Religious Studies 44 (2008): 263

[13] Gregory A. Boyd, “An Open-Theism Response,” in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, ed. James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2001), 111.

[14] Gregory A. Boyd, “The Open-Theism View,” in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, 13-14.

[15] And what does and does not constitute unacceptable theological consequences.

6 replies
  1. Stuart001
    Stuart001 says:

    Thanks for the link Tim, those were an interesting read. It seems to me a very odd logic square Boyd constructs. If its true that (A) "Sue might and might not marry Barry tomorrow," then it's contradictory is not (B) "Sue will marry Barry tomorrow" nor (C) "Sue will not marry Barry tomorrow" but (D) "Sue will and will not marry Barry tomorrow." While A is necessarily true, B is necessarily not true. And what Boyd claims is contradictory to A – that is B and C – is actually a sub-implication for one and a contrary to the other one, whichever is picked.

  2. Tim
    Tim says:

    Hi Stuart. Do they teach Philosophy at Laidlaw? Neat! I have to check out their courses, I am hearing a lot of good things about Laidlaw at the moment and have heard the principal talk – interesting guy!

    I agree with Boyd here. B cannot be a sub-implication of A. B implies prior knowledge of the choice. But at the time of proposing A, B & C – this is not known. Therefore it cannot be true in any sense. Can I suggest that to say B is a sub-implication of A assumes that the choice someone will make can be known in advance. But that's the very thing that Open Theists reject.

    Great that you are thinking about this stuff.

    My on take on Open Theism is that the church (and it only seems to be in America mostly) has got worried about something it doesn't need to. Open Theism is an argument about the nature of the future and especially about what is knowable about the future. In other words it is an epistemological issue NOT an issue about God's nature in particularly His omniscience. If it is not logically possible to know the outcome of someone's free will choice in advance – then to say God doesn't know such things isn't to diminish God – it is simply to say that God exists in reality like the rest of us. It is equivalent to the 'square circles' argument someone posing in response to someone claiming that God cannot make square circles. That doesn't diminish God's omnipotence to say that He can't do something logically impossible.

    Take care – jealous of your chance to do study and have time to get into these things.

    More power to you….

  3. Stuart001
    Stuart001 says:

    Hi Tim, They don't teach Philosophy as a subject at Laidlaw, and though I haven't pressed the issue, I get the feeling some don't really don't appreciate philosophical dialogue in theological discourse (philosophical theology)Above I wasn't concerned with the social side of the OT debate. My essay only addresses the fiery debate that OT has engendered insofar as I advocate, on the advice of Alan Rhoda, that critics address the core commitments of OT, which he labeled Generic Open Theism. For an OT such as Gregory Boyd the central dialectic in the debate may well be if there are or are not some future contingent propositions that are neither true nor false. Thus, the debate being about the content of creation rather than about whether God is or is not omniscient. Still, Bivalentist OT has implications that spread much wider than the doctrine of creation. It obviously effects the way we conceive God's omniscience – which is, it seems to me, an issue of divine epistemology. It effects the assurance we have of salvation, the nature of prophesy, providence, theodicy, eschatology, etc. These issues combine to make a very serious adjustment to what Christianity has traditionally taught.

    If it is not logically possible to know the outcome of someone's free will choice in advance – then to say God doesn't know such things isn't to diminish God – it is simply to say that God exists in reality like the rest of us.

    I agree with this conditional statement. From Part 2 you probably know that I don't accept the condition: "it is not logically possible to know the outcome of someone's free will choice in advance." Rater it is logically possible. And Boyd world agree with that, I think. He would want to qualify that some contingent propositions are logically impossible to know (have no truth value). The difficulty for him would be to explain why it is not ad hoc that some and not other future contingent propositions cannot be known (have no truth value). Those logic squares are doing my head in, and I don't have time to think about such things at the moment. Hopefully I can come back to this as it is of continuing interest to me.

  4. Tim
    Tim says:

    Hi Stuart – yes, get back to your study. These things take time, and its important not to let them swallow too much of it. Hope that it is okay though to respond to some things that you have said.

    "It obviously effects the way we conceive God's omniscience – which is, it seems to me, an issue of divine epistemology. It effects the assurance we have of salvation, the nature of prophesy, providence, theodicy, eschatology, etc. These issues combine to make a very serious adjustment to what Christianity has traditionally taught. "

    You are right that it does have implications. I think it is debatable if what most protestant Christians (& possibly Roman Catholic & Orthodox) think today corresponds to what the early church thought. Open Theists like Boyd would argue that a lot of what comes across as Classical Theism has been syncretisically influenced by Platonic (& Aristotilian) philosophy, particularly with respect to notions of God's immutability. This notion of an unchanging God in terms of His knowledge (God can't learn anything), His decisions (He never changes His mind) are highly debateable from scripture. The Open Theist would argue that the thing that doesn't change with God is His character. With regard to Prophesy I have to admit a progressive change within myself as I have embraced Open Theism (Actually I have thought this way since 1982 – though it wasn't called Open Theism then, but have more recently thought about the implications of it). I now see Prophesy to be more to do with God's omnipotence than His omniscience. This is what I mean. We make predictions (prophesy's ?) ourselves all the come true. For-instance last night I told someone that I would be taking my car to work tomorrow. And low and behold it came true this morning! And this happens quite often. The times it doesn't work out are as follows. Something happens to intervene that stops me fulfilling that prediction eg my car breaks down. Now in God's case, He is A/ confident that nothing can stop Him from fulfilling His plans (who is going to stop God?) & B/ Because He lives forever He knows that He will be around when the right time comes to execute His plans. Hence, I believe that prophesy isn't so much about God seeing the definitive future in advance as planning for it to happen and executing His plans at the right time.

    That leads me to your other point.

    :From Part 2 you probably know that I don't accept the condition: "it is not logically possible to know the outcome of someone's free will choice in advance." Rater it is logically possible. And Boyd world agree with that, I think. He would want to qualify that some contingent propositions are logically impossible to know (have no truth value). The difficulty for him would be to explain why it is not ad hoc that some and not other future contingent propositions cannot be known (have no truth value)."

    I don't want to speak for Boyd but… I would imagine that he would think that all contingent propositions were impossible to know in advance. The two 'piles of things' he makes are in a different category. He believes that the future is only partially open. There are somethings that are fixed and certain to occur. there are the things that God has planned in advance to do eg the scond coming of Christ. Now this differs from Calvinism in the sense that some version of Calvinism as comprehensively determinist ie God has determined everything in advance. The Open Theist would say that God has determined only some things in advance like the second coming. The other pile of things is in the free area open to free agents choice. That other pile is huge!

    Thanks

    Tim

  5. George Holdorf
    George Holdorf says:

    Worthwhile article! Thanks. There are two debates on Open Theism, both by an Open Theist pastor and radio host, Bob Enyart of Denver Bible Church. The first with D. James Kennedy’s professor of New Testament Dr. Samuel Lamerson of Knox Theological Seminary, and the second with Dr. Larry Bray, the president of the onlineNorth American Reformed Seminary, all at kgov.com/opentheism Thanks again!

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