Openness Theology (Part Two)

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,[1] and (3) Philosophical objections. In this short essay I advance my own brief analysis as to why GOT is philosophically flawed.

Open Theism is in many respects a reaction to hard-line Calvinism and the theological determinism that it implies. OT takes libertarian freedom as axiomatic. Accordingly, because of God’s exhaustive foreknowledge and atemporality, EC incompatibility is thought to follow. Pinnock states:

“I found that I could not shake off the intuition that such a total omniscience would necessarily mean that everything we will ever choose in the future will have been already spelled out in the divine knowledge register, and consequently the belief that we have truly significant choices to make would seem to be mistaken.”[2]

It is clear that by “truly significant” Pinnock means undetermined.[3] But why should exhaustive foreknowledge preclude libertarian freedom as Pinnock intuits? There is a distinct lack in the literature explicating this presupposition. Indeed, no argument for theological determinism can be advanced that is not logically fallacious. Consider the following syllogism:

1)     Necessarily, if God knows x (where x is a future event), x will happen.

2)     God knows everything (this includes x).

Therefore, (modus ponems, 1&2)

3) Necessarily, x will happen.

In other words, if God knows a person’s future choice, that person must make that choice. We can immediately see that this argument must be false – even if we don’t know how. For just by merit of knowing something will occur, doesn’t mean that it must occur. I know that I am going to have Subway™ for lunch. That doesn’t mean I have to have Subway™ for lunch. I could have Noodles. Or skip lunch entirely.

Let us turn to an examination of the premises. Premise (1) is necessary because it is no more than a truism. It is not because it is God doing the knowing, but because x is simply “known,” for to know x requires x to be true: you cannot know x if x is false. We could replace “God” as the knower with anyone we wanted, such as “the gods,”[4] or “the whether man,” or “Big Bird.” It could be anyone doing the knowing and (1) would still be a necessary truth.

Premise (2) is true by merit of God’s omniscience, and classical theism is committed to this proposition. It is on this ground that the OT believes (3) to flow logically from the premises, that leads her to deny (2). Since according to the classical theist both the premises are true, if he is to deny the conclusion the only option left for him is to show that (3) does not flow logically from the premises.

And indeed, what follows from the premises is not (3) but,

3`) x will happen.

Which is to say, x won’t fail to occur, but it could fail to occur. If x fails to happen, we can be assured that God did not know x. This is not to deny (O). It is to say that x was false. That is why Hodge can say:

“…as free acts are in their nature uncertain, as they may not be, they cannot be known before they occur. […] This whole difficulty arises out the assumption that contingency is essential to free agency. [But] If an act may be certain as to its occurrence, and yet free as to the mode of its occurrence, the difficulty vanishes.”[5] [brackets and italics mine]

Thus, an essential presupposition of OT is founded upon a modally fallacious inference. Deprived of a successful proof of EC incompatibility, and with no disproof of concurrence formulations of Divine sovereignty and libertarian freedom,[6] it follows – from a purely philosophical point of view – that GOT is not to be preferred.

Further, GOT appear to be prima facie dubious. Given the strong case for all future contingent propositions being either true or false, Bivalent and Non-Bivalent variants of OT appear unfounded.[7] Moreover, Steven C. Roy, in his comprehensive biblical study of divine foreknowledge identifies 2,323 predictive prophecies concerning CCFs creating a powerful quantitative argument against any limitation of divine foreknowledge.[8] The OT may still object by qualifying God’s foreknowledge is existentially quantitative. However, in the light of the number, variety and precision of the 300 representative predictive prophesies from scripture involving future free decisions detailed by Roy, the burden of proof is firmly placed on the OTs shoulders to show that God’s knowledge of CCFs is not universally quantified.

Craig explains:

“The problem with Boyd’s procedure . . . is that the defender of divine foreknowledge need only show that God knows just one future contingent proposition or CCF, for in that case (1) there is no logical incompatibility between divine foreknowledge and future continents, (2) the Principle of Bivalence does not fail for such propositions, and (3) it becomes ad hoc to claim that other such propositions are not also true and known to God.”[9]

The contemporary debate surrounding the perfection of God’s knowledge, specifically his prescience of contingent events, or the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (CCFs) continues today. There are many aspect of the debate I have not covered, including the theological consequences; such as what OT offers and undermines in theodicy, and hermeneutical considerations; such as anthropopathy in narrative genres and the role of systematic theology in interpretation. I have not been concerned in this essay with the religious backlash OT has engendered. I have been concerned with the truth of OT, by exploring the arguments for and against. Though most proponents of OT prefer to argue on biblical grounds rather than philosophical grounds,[10] there is enough reason here to think that OT is, at the level of its core commitments, false. God, it seems, still does not play dice.


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

[2] […] I feared if we view God as timeless and omniscient, we will land back in the camp of theological determinism where these notions naturally belong. See Clark H. Pinnock, “From Augustine to Arminius: A Pilgrimage in Theology” The Grace of God and the Will of Man, (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1989), 9.

[3] Undetermined choices are important for Pinnock, for the following three reasons. “It astonishes me that people can defend the “glory of God” [exhaustive foreknowledge] so vehemently when that glory includes God’s sovereign authorship of every rape and murder, his closing down the future to any meaningful creaturely contribution, and his holding people accountable for deeds he predestined them to do and they could not but do.” See Clark Pinnock, Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness, (Grand Rapids, Mi.; Baker Academic, 2001), 16.

[4] Indeed, this argument is nothing more than the argument for old-line Greek fatalism.

[5] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology. Vol. 1., (Oak Harbor, WA: James Clark & Co., 1997), 401,

[6] Possible options here include Luis De Molina’s formulation of the doctrine of Middle Knowledge. Or James Arminius’ confessed ignorance.

[7] Strong reasons must be given before preferring Peircean semantics over the popular and common sense Ockhamist semantics that allows propositions like “I am going to have Subway for lunch,” to be either true or false. For further information see, See “Generic Open Theism and Some Variants Thereof,” Religious Studies 44 (2008): 233.

[8] Steven C. Roy, How Much Does God Foreknow? A Comprehensive Biblical Study (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006).  See also “How Much Does God Foreknow? Online Supplement” at

[9] William Lane Craig, “A middle-knowledge Response,” in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, ed. James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2001), 57.

[10] See Appendix A for a brief defence against the Openness criticism of the influence of Greek thought on the conception of God.


Battle, John A. “Some Biblical Arguments used by Openness Theology” WRS Journal 12/1 (February 2005): 15-20.

Beilby, James K. and Paul R. Eddy, eds., Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001.

Craig, William Lane, Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom: The Coherence of theism: Omniscience, vol. 19. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1991.

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, New York: MacMillan, 1960.

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

Hasker, William. God, TIme and Knowledge, Cornell Studies in the Philosophy of Religion, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989.

Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology, vol. 1. London: James Clark & Co, 1960.

Geisler, Norman L. and H. Wayne House, The Battle For God: Responding to the Challenge of Neotheism, Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001.

Pinnock, Clark. Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness, Carlisle: Paternoster, 2001.

____________. “From Augustine to Arminius: A Pilgrimage in Theology,” The Grace of God and the Will of Man, Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1989.

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

Roy, Steven C. How Much Does God Foreknow? A Comprehensive Biblical Study, Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006.

Sanders, John. “Open Theism Explained.” No pages. Cited 3 October 2010. Online:

Thomas, Robert L. “The Hermeneutics of ‘Open Theism’” The Master’s Seminary Journal 12/2 (Fall 2001): 179-202.

Wright , R. K. McGregor. No Place for Sovereignty: Whats Wrong with Freewill Theism, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

12 replies
  1. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    I agree that Calvinism is logically untenable. I have a long time Baptist friend who occassionally tries to convert me to Christianity (I'm an atheist). The last time we met he revealed that he is a Calvinist, which led to a fascination discussion.

    I was quick to point out that if my fate is pre-determined, I don't need to become a Christian, and I sure as heck wouldn't want to devote my life to worshipping someone who plans to torture me for eternity, no matter what I do. If I'm going to be tortured anyway, I'll do what I want while I still have the option.

    He of course objected because evangelism is central to his theology. But as much as he tried, rationally he could not reconcile his self-contradictory beliefs.

  2. Godismyjudge
    Godismyjudge says:

    Nice post, but one minor nit. Hodge was a compatiblist. While he does use the word certain rather than necessary, he explains himself as meaing that the actions are not compelled against our will, even if they are determined. But overall, I agree with your post here.

    God be with you,

  3. Jericho
    Jericho says:

    God is not out to torture those who end up in hell at all, if people in this life want nothing to do with God then the bible is clear in the life to come He will grant them their wish for eternity…

  4. Tim
    Tim says:

    Hi Stuart. There are assumptions in your argument that need to be establised first.

    "1) Necessarily, if God knows x (where x is a future event), x will happen."

    But Open Theism believes that some events can be known by God in advance but generally they are events he has planned to occur eg the second coming of Christ. So you can put this into 'x'. However, there is a lot about future events that doesn't fit into this logic. God knows things as they are. His knowledge includes things that might and might not occur. This is in addition to the things He knows will or will not occur. They are not subsets of His knowledge of the things that will or will not occur – they are in addition to. In this area of might or might not occur fall the free will choices of humans. So God knows tha I might or might not have salad for dinner tonight. He knows it is it is ie 'a might' – not 'knows'. To say that it is part of 'knows' is impossible because it hasn't occurred yet and is part of my free will choice. He doesn't 'know' I will have salad and He doesn't 'know' I won't have salad. But He knows I 'might' have salad. Hence might and might not are not contained by 'knows' & 'knows not'.

    2) God knows everything (this includes x).

    Yes but as things are, including the 'mights'.

    "Therefore, (modus ponems, 1&2)

    3) Necessarily, x will happen."

    Sorry – if we are talking about things in the 'might' box – 3 doesn't follow.

  5. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:


    1) Necessarily, if God knows x (where x is a future event), x will happen.2) God knows everything (this includes x).Therefore, (modus ponems, 1&2)3) Necessarily, x will happen.For just by merit of knowing something will occur, doesn’t mean that it must occur.

    Hey Stuart. Sorry, but your argument is trading on an ambiguity in the term "necessary". You're confusing logical and temporal necessity.I agree that (3) is not logically necessary. But it is temporally necessary. A better word would simply be "unpreventable". For example, let P be "God knows I will eat chocolate tomorrow at 12 pm"; and let Q be "I will eat chocolate tomorrow at 12 pm":Now-unpreventably P[](P –> Q)Now-unprevenably QA prerequisite of knowing Q is that Q is true. Thus, by definition, if God knows Q, then Q is determinate. It is not possible for God to know Q, and for Q to be false or indeterminate. But if Q's truth is determinate today, then it is inevitable; my choice will happen inexorably as God knows it will.This doesn't deny that the choice is contingent. But it does deny the principle of alternative possibility, which is what proponents of libertarian free will normally take as prerequisite for libertarianly free choices, moral responsibility, "meaningful" decisions, "real" love and all the rest of it. Since Open Theism stands or falls on the truth of LFW, your argument would certainly fail to convince an Open Theist. In fact, unless you recently became a Calvinist, it should fail to convince you too! Or do you deny PAP? (You'd be in good company; Moses did too.)Bill Williams:

    I was quick to point out that if my fate is pre-determined, I don't need to become a Christian

    Perhaps you could explain your reasoning here? What if you're pre-determined to become a Christian? Your objection implies that Calvinism denies secondary causes or agencies; when in fact Calvinism affirms them.

    and I sure as heck wouldn't want to devote my life to worshipping someone who plans to torture me for eternity

    You're taking a pretty tendentious, medieval view of hell here. One might almost call it a straw man. Hell is certainly represented as a place of torment, but the torment is not a sadistic pleasure exacted by God; rather it's a just punishment. It also seems to be a function largely of the sinner's own exposure to God's holiness, which is unbearable.

    no matter what I do. If I'm going to be tortured anyway, I'll do what I want while I still have the option.

    But of course, that's not how it is. In fact, if you converted to Christianity, you would not be "tortured". That's why the gospel is good news.

    He of course objected because evangelism is central to his theology. But as much as he tried, rationally he could not reconcile his self-contradictory beliefs.

    Like anyone, Calvinists can have trouble seeing how things fit together. But his beliefs are not self-contradictory. If you take the time to understand them, they're perspicuously self-affirming and coherent. I'd invite you to read my article 'The Salvation Strawman' for an explanation. But if you're not interested, perhaps you'd be so kind as to at least pass that link along to your Baptist friend? I think he'd find it useful.

  6. Stuart001
    Stuart001 says:

    Hi Bnonn,The argument you quote isn't my argument. Its the argument for theological determinism used by theological determinists. Since you agree that 3 is not logically necessary, you agree with me that this argument fails as a proof for theological determinism. (A) Are you agreeing that 3` is properly what follows from 1 and 2? That is to say, 3`) X could fail to happen, but won't.To me it is your terms that are ambiguous. You say X is "temporally necessary" and then swap it for "unpreventable." Then apply this term to God's knowledge? (B) Could you spell out what your first premise (Now-unpreventably P) actually means in English?If you could clear A and B up for me, it would help me respond. Also…

    A prerequisite of knowing Q is that Q is true. Thus, by definition, if God knows Q, then Q is determinate.

    Thats incorrect. Actually, by definition if God knows Q, then Q is true.

  7. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Hey Stuart.

    The argument you quote isn't my argument. Its the argument for theological determinism used by theological determinists. Since you agree that 3 is not logically necessary, you agree with me that this argument fails as a proof for theological determinism.

    I think the argument is poorly formulated. I believe you can formulate a similar argument for determinism which succeeds because the ambiguity between logical and accidental or "temporal" necessity is clarified. Let me try to put it another way for you, to clear up the idea of "unpreventableness":Let P be the statement "God knows I will do x tomorrow"Let Q be the statement "I will do x tomorrow"1. Now unchangeably P2. [](P –> Q)3. Now unchangeably QTo say something is unchangeable is simply to say there's no possibility of an alternative obtaining instead. For example, if it's unchangeable that I will do x tomorrow, and x is not compossible with y, then it is unchangeably not the case that I will do y tomorrow. It is not logically impossible that I'll do y tomorrow, but it is accidentally impossible, because of the condition of God's knowledge which renders my action unchangeable in advance.To be honest, though, this seems self-evident. Why construct arguments for what is obvious? If God knows I will do x tomorrow, then it is true I'll do x tomorrow. What I will do is determinate, which is simply to say it is not indeterminate. Were it indeterminate, you'd have an open future, and it could not be an object of knowledge. That's Open Theism.But if it's determinate, then the future is closed, and you have theological determinism. Those are the only two options you've got. Either an indeterminate, open future which God cannot know, or a closed, determinate future which he can know.

  8. Stuart001
    Stuart001 says:

    Hi there TIm, I didn't realize you'd commented and so haven't goten back to you until now. I won't be able to respond after this for about a week, as I've an assignment due in. To address your comment above, the argument you quote is not an argument directly against Open Theism, but against theological determinism. My argument against Open Theism proceeds as follows. Step One) If we are to refute OT, we need to argue against the commitments of Generic Open Theism.Step Two) The commitments of GOT include EC incompatibility. (EC incompatability = def. That 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)Step Three) There is no successful argument for EC incompatibility. (The argument for theological determinism assessed and dismissed as modally fallacious)Step Four) There are no successful arguments against EC compatibility. (Siding with either Molina, Ockham or Arminius).Step Five) As GOT stands, on philosophical grounds alone, OT is not to be preferred.

  9. Stuart001
    Stuart001 says:

    I'd like to respond to your objection, but I've an assignment and need to focus on that for the next little while. I do believe your objection can be answered, but I need to spend some time thinking and reading about the objection more, and spending some time writing to formulate exactly how to best answer it. I hope to return to it. Let me just that two things. I do agree that if you have reason for thinking that there is no libertarian freedom, then you have reason for thinking that Open Theism is false. I however, do think we have libertarian freedom, so don't have the option of using that strategy in refuting Open Theism.Second, it doesn't strike me as obvious that a necessary condition for Libertarian Freedom is that there be an alternative possibility available that you could choose. A simple thought experiment could tease this out. Say, I am presented with two options, A and B. Unknown to me, someone has implanted in my brain some electric machinery that would trigger if I chose B, and make me choose A. If I chose A, the machinery remains inactive. In this case I am unable to choose B. Now say I desired and chose to go with A. This decision was entirely free. As I said when we spoke, Libertarian freedom of the will is a freedom that is completely without causal restraints. You countered with the idea that this condition would entail there is no libertarian freedom at all, because we are never without causal restraints. You gave an example of someone with a gun to the head forcing you to do something. I said that obviously I don't count the circumstance we are placed in as causal restraints on the will. To elaborate on that response further I would say that the very fact the thief puts a gun to my head is evidence that the thief does not have the power to causally effect my will. If he had that power, he wouldn't need a gun. What he does with the gun is present his potential victim with a dilemma, "either do what I say or loose your life." A choice of dire consequences forced upon me is not the same as causally effecting what I choose to do.See ya round. :-)

  10. Stuart001
    Stuart001 says:

    Thanks for that. I think you're right in that Hodge was a compatiblist, for he says, "The foreknowledge of God is inconsistent with a false theory of free agency, but not with the true doctrine on that subject." Although it seems to me he doesn't strongly endorse that "true doctrine," for he says, "After Augustine, the common way of meeting the difficulty of reconciling foreknowledge with liberty, was to represent it as merely subjective."That to me shows that he has more grounds for accepting compatabilism than the inability of Socinus to show the reconciliation of human liberty with divine foreknowledge was impossible.

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