countering open theism

The prime indicator of an individual who identifies with Open Theism is a claim that the God of the Bible does not know future actions; not only is that not a characteristic of God depicted in the Bible but it would violate any claim of God to be involved in a genuine relationship with mankind. If the future was set (and God in the Bible is depicted as changing the future), then mankind would be fated to perform certain actions. Before the world began, mankind (through nothing they could ever change) would be fated to go to heaven or hell. It would be outside the realm of possibility to change this fate. Exhaustive foreknowledge is fatalism.

There are multiple views in Open Theism about God’s knowledge. The prevailing view is that God is omniscient (defined as knowing everything possible to know). This would not include future events, as a nonexistent event is not knowable. It is argued that God knows everything, but the future is not set. Some versions also maintain that God knows all possible future outcomes (every different fork of events). A very small minority of Open Theists claim that God not only does not know the future, but also that He can choose not to know current events (because He is God and God can do everything).

In order for Calvinism to be correct and Open Theism to be wrong, not only does the Calvinist have to prove that God knows everything currently, but also that He knows everything in the past and in the future. Just proving that God knows all current events affects only a fraction of self-described Open Theists.

There are two main evidences that Calvinists use to make a claim that God has omniscience (with exhaustive knowledge of the future). The first evidence is to quote verses that make blanket statements about God’s knowledge. What the Calvinist needs to show in these verses, in order to sway the Open Theist, are two things:

1.1. The verse is not an idiom. Jesus was said to know everything (Joh 16:30 and 21:17), but even Jesus admitted that He did not (Mar 13:32). The people who were speaking to Jesus were using an idiom known as hyperbole. “Everything” was limited to the context and meant “a whole lot”. The Calvinist needs to show that the Bible is not using a hyperbole.

1.2. The verse includes exhaustive foreknowledge of the future. Most Open Theists would enthusiastically endorse the statement “God knows everything”. Everything does not include the future because the future is not a “thing”. When God counts hairs on the heads of people, it is present tense. Just pointing to verses indicating vast knowledge cannot be just assumed to include non-events, events that do not exist because people did not make them happen.

The other type of evidence that Calvinists use is specific predictions. If God predicts something accurately, something that would be impossible to predict without exhaustive foreknowledge, Open Theists would have to concede that they are wrong. What the Calvinist needs to show in these verses, in order to sway the Open Theist, are two things:

2.1. That the event is not a prediction based on rational information. I can predict that I America will elect a liberal (Democrat or Republican) next election. I can predict that low skilled workers become less employable when the minimum wage is increased and some lose their jobs. These predictions are not hard to make. I do not have to see the future in detail. The predictions are based on current knowledge. Because God knows everything (or everything He wants to know), His predictions can be much more accurate than mine.

2.2. That the event is not a prediction based on the God causing the event. When God caused the global flood in Noah’s days, no man/angel/animal could stop Him. If God says He will do something, sometimes He makes it happen through His power. These events do not require exhaustive foreknowledge.

When Calvinists try to quote verses, they need to show the prediction was accurate enough, with enough human free will involvement, and enough unknowns in order for this event not to be predictable or causable by God (if He did not know the future).

Open Theists have quite a few ways to show that Calvinism is wrong. Because Calvinism relies on blanket statements (God knows the future exhaustively) all the Open Theist needs to do is to show one instance in which God did not know the future. If God is surprised (Jer 32:35), regrets his own actions (Gen 6:6), learns something new (Gen 22:12), changes His mind (1Sa 15:11), shortens/lengthens events (2Ki 20:6), or makes a failed prophecy (Eze 26:14 and Eze 29:18), then Calvinists are at a loss.

The common way Calvinists deal with these texts are to:

1. Explain how the text does not indicate what the Open Theists claim the text states. For example, in the Garden of Eden God asks where Adam is hiding. Calvinists say that this was God attempting to coax Adam into self-confession and this does not represent a lack of knowledge. There needs to be some sort of logical intent. It makes sense that God wants Adam to self-identify, so the verse is not good evidence of God not having present knowledge (no Open Theist claims it is). But if God is saying He will go find information (Gen 18:21), then intent is harder to identify.

2. Explain that it is an anthropomorphism (anthropopathism). They claim that the text looks like it represents a lack of knowledge (learning something new, being surprised, or changing the future), but it is really a metaphor to communicate to humans a divine truth. In order for this to be true, the metaphor needs to actually describe something. Wings might symbolize protection, and arms might symbolize strength. But the Bible saying that God repented of making men (and proceeding to kill all but 8) (Gen 6:6), saying that He learned new information (“now I know”) (Gen 22:12), saying that something never entered His mind (Jer 32:35), saying that He does the opposite of things He thought He was going to do (Jer 18:8), saying people did not respond the way He thought they would (Isa 5:4), those things must have some meaning.

Likewise, Open Theists can also point to general statements about God to make their points. A verse might say that God’s general principle is that He reacts to man’s decisions and does not do what “He thought to do” (Jer 18:8) (Eze 18:21).

It is a good question as to how Calvinists deal with these texts, because the most commonly experienced method is deflection.

But now to the Biblical case for Omniscience (exhaustive foreknowledge of the future). In sermons, Calvinists tend to use a smorgasbord of verses to make this point. A list is presented, with no context, and the implications of the verses are just assumed to be Calvinistic. There are never any follow-up studies on the verses in the context of the original verse, so the smorgasbord cannot be claimed just to be a concise overview. This is an infantile way to do theology. Verses should all be understood in context.

A Calvinist sent me a sermon on “omniscience”. Before listening to the sermon some obvious predictions were made: In all the general verses there will be no attempt to explain why they are not an idiom and no attempt will be made to show how that “knowledge” includes the future. For any specific verse, no attempt will be made to explain how it cannot be predicted or caused by God. Additional prediction: the pastor will not address any verses that actually question omniscience.

When listening to the Calvinist’s sermon on omniscience, the following verses were used. The verse will be quoted along with the pastor’s summary or statement about the verse and then a brief comment by myself:

Psa 147:5 Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite.

Pastor: “God’s knowledge of things knows no boundaries.”
My comment: Infinite is the same word for the amount of corn that Joseph collected. It is an obvious idiom, and “understanding” means “intelligence” (not knowledge).

Job 37:16 Do you know how the clouds are balanced, Those wondrous works of Him who is perfect in knowledge?

Pastor: “God’s understanding is infinite. Combine that with he is perfect in knowledge.”
My comment: This is a quote from someone God condemns for not knowing what they are talking about. Probably this is not a good person to quote.

Heb 4:13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

Pastor: “He knows everything… God knows all things completely.”
My comment: This is about present knowledge and is limited to animals and humans. It was also not shown to not be an idiom.

Isa 40:13 Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD, Or as His counselor has taught Him?

Pastor: “Obviously nobody.”
My comment: In the Bible, the obvious answer to a rhetorical question might itself be an idiom. Paul asks who can resist God’s will (Rom 9:19), implying “no one”. But in Luke 7:13 the lawyers resist God’s will (same Greek word). This verse has nothing to do with knowledge, and the pastor ignores the fact that sometimes God crowd-sources for ideas (1Ki 22:20).

Mat 10:29 Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will.
Mat 10:30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.

Pastor: “God knows every hair on your head… because He is perfect in knowledge.”
My comment: There can be a case made that God allows (makes a positive decision for) animals to die and that God knows human beings. But this does not address exhaustive current knowledge much less exhausted future knowledge.

1Jn 3:20 For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.

Pastor: “God not only knows all things, but He knows them completely.”
My comment: This seems to be in the context of people thinking evil but doing good. The context is about someone who appears righteous on the outside, and the verse is stating that God can see through the outside into the “heart” (a Hebrew idiom for “mind”). “All things” might be referring to these thoughts, like a wife confronting her cheating husband and saying “I know everything”.

Psalm 139 – [Too long to quote, but Psalm 139 is a song by David extolling David’s special relationship with God]

Act 15:18 “Known to God from eternity are all His works.

Pastor: “He has known them from eternity.”
My comment: The context seems to be Peter explaining the history of God’s interaction with the Gentiles and reminding his listeners that God remembers God’s own history with the Gentiles. This is not talking about future events, but past events. Eternity is more accurately translated “ages”.

Psa 33:13 The LORD looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men.
Psa 33:14 From the place of His dwelling He looks On all the inhabitants of the earth;
Psa 33:15 He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works.

Pastor: “He knows all things past and all things present.”
My comment: The verse again is talking about current knowledge and not even exhaustive current knowledge.

Isa 46:9 Remember the former things of old, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me,
Isa 46:10 Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure,’

Pastor: “See God knows all things future”
My comment: This is God saying that He declares well in advance things that He will do. No one disagrees with that. The pastor did not meet the criteria about showing how God did not predict things based on current knowledge or predict things based on His own knowledge of what He is going to do.

Mat 11:20 Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent:
Mat 11:21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
Mat 11:22 But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you.

Pastor: “God knows all things possible”
My comment: Jesus admits to not knowing everything (Mar 13:32). The pastor, elsewhere, admits to Jesus not knowing everything (calling Omniscience a latent characteristic). It is kind of weird. Jesus does not know the end of times, but He knows alternative realities for past events. The better understanding is Jesus is insulting His listeners.

1Pe 1:2 elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.

Pastor: “People are elect based on the foreknowledge of God.”
My comment: Does this deal with individuals or groups? Did God elect “believers” or “Joe Smith”? In other words, did God say “anyone who believes in me is elect” or did He say “Joe Smith is elect”? Also, does foreknowledge mean “before the world began” or “sometime before now”?

Pro 15:3 The eyes of the LORD are in every place, Keeping watch on the evil and the good.

Pastor: “God is all knowing; He knows all things completely.”
My comment: I have dealt with this elsewhere. The better understanding of this verse is that God uses angels to gather information on individuals. If this is true, this verse is powerful evidence against Calvinists.

There it is, the concise case for God’s exhaustive knowledge of past, present, and future events. My predictions came true, and not because I knew the future exhaustively.

One other thing of note, when the pastor was talking about God testing Abraham with Isaac, the pastor skipped over the crucial verse which his theology needs to interpret out of reality:

Gen 22:12 And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”

God is stating He acquired new information.

In a sermon on omniscience, the pastor failed to prove his point. He failed to take verses in context or discuss the context. Even when talking about Psalms 139 (the only scripture read in context), he ignored the point that David was writing this and David had a special relationship with God. The pastor took everything David wrote and generalized it, not a hint about an individual pouring his heart out to God. The pastor did not address idioms or verses that are used against omniscience. And the pastor never even showed any verses stressing exhausted current knowledge.

When the Calvinist sent this sermon to me, it is telling that he thought it was powerful. This reaffirms the point that Calvinists just assume their theology into the verses and then expect that quoting their verses is enough to convince people. Tellingly, they do not like explaining context or addressing actual opposing points.

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
This entry was posted in Bible, Calvinism, God, Jesus, Omniscience, Open Theism, People, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

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