Open Theism and the Sovereignty of God

Submitted by Benjamin on Sun, 11/10/2013 - 01:38
No one would write fiction if the characters in a story constantly opposed the author’s plan. We can imagine Frodo Baggins, contrary to J.R.R. Tolkien’s intention, refusing to take the Ring of Power or Lucy Pevensie deciding not to explore the wardrobe. An author would have to adjust constantly to accommodate the whims of his characters. Open theism claims that this is reality. John Sanders, a founder of open theism wrote, “God reacts to contingencies, even adjusting his plans, if necessary, to take into account the decisions of his free creatures.”1 Though open theism professes the Bible as its ultimate authority, the god of open theism is a watered-down god – a super-man at best. Open theism’s god provides no basis for confidence because he falls far short of the eternal, prescient, and sovereign Lord of Scripture. Open theism worships a finite god that cannot compare to the eternal Creator in Scripture. Because of their preconceived notion of a god who adjusts himself to mankind, open theists deny the possibility of an eternal creator. They recognize that a god who changes his mind and his plans cannot transcend time. As Sanders claims, “That God changes in some respects implies that God is temporal, working with us in time.” He concludes, “God is everlasting through time rather than timelessly eternal.”2 The open theist’s god must act under the restrictions of time. In contrast, the God of Scripture transcends time. The first verse in the Bible declares, “In the beginning, God created…”3 The “beginning” refers to the beginning of all things – it includes the beginning of time itself. Because God created time, time cannot limit God, for no effect is greater than its cause. A painting cannot limit its painter, nor a book its author. The author limits his book and the painter his painting. In the same way, the Author of time transcends time. As the Apostle Peter writes, “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”4 While the limitations of time constrict the open theist’s god, the God of Scripture transcends time. His existence has no beginning or end. Open theism’s god cannot compare to the eternal Creator. When we compare the finite knowledge of the god of open theism to the omniscience of God, open theism’s god once again falls short. The god of open theism does not know the future. In fact, in order for the open theist’s god to “react to contingencies,” he cannot know the future. The open theist thus concludes, “God knows what we may possibly do and what we are likely to do in the future but God does not have certain (definite) knowledge of what creatures freely do until they do it.”5 This does not improve our confidence in this god since he himself can’t know if his own promises are trustworthy. The God of Scripture, on the other hand, is the prescient God. The Apostle James declared, “Known to God from eternity are all His works.”6 When God tested Abraham (Gen. 22), He knew how Abraham would respond. John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church notes that Abraham’s action remained uncertain as long as he did not actually kill his son. Thus, God’s assertion, “now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me”7 indicates that God knew how Abraham would respond before his action was certain. Scripture is not ambiguous – God is the prescient God. As theologian John Gill once wrote, “God had, from eternity, a prescience or foreknowledge of all future events; of all future contingencies, even of the free actions of men's wills…”8 The god of open theism falls far short of the eternal Creator and prescient God of Scripture, for he is finite in time and in knowledge. Furthermore, in contrast to the sovereign Lord of Scripture, open theism’s god has no control over the course of history. Because of open theism’s adherence to man’s absolute free will, open theists shrink from attributing sovereignty to their god. Instead they claim, “[T]he story of God and humanity is more like a ‘choose your own adventure’ book than a completed novel. Moreover, the story is not authored by a single individual but by hosts of individuals in relation to one another. It is a group project.”9 We can have no confidence in such a god. He may promise us a “happy ending” to history, but we cannot trust it if he has no power to direct history’s course. Yet in order to maintain man’s total freedom, open theists worship a god who “elicits human cooperation such that it is both God and humanity who decide what the future shall be.”10 Scripture, on the contrary, teaches the sovereignty of God. Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon exalts in the sovereign Lord,
“His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’”11
Man’s actions do not inhibit God. On the contrary, Job asserted, “[Man’s] days are determined, The number of his months is with You; You have appointed his limits, so that he cannot pass.”12 One eternal, prescient, sovereign Lord authors history. The characters cannot limit or control God who “works all things after the counsel of His will”12 – He appoints their limits. He is the sovereign Lord. Open theism’s god cannot compare to the eternal Creator, the prescient God, and the sovereign Lord. Open theism exchanges the true God in all of His magnificence for a watered-down god – a super-man at best – frantically rushing to correct glitches in his plan caused by our decisions. This god cannot guarantee anything. His promises are mere conjecture – even he can’t know if they are trustworthy. We can’t look for a happy ending to history because the author has no control over its course. He is not in control. Only the God of Scripture offers true assurance. He proclaims, “I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure.’”14 Praise God that He is the eternal Creator, the prescient God, and the sovereign Lord!
Author's age when written


I love reading your essays, Benjamin. They are clear, very clear. I only skimmed this, because of time shortage, but your essays are always enlightening to read. The last paragraph is powerful and conclusive. Well done.

Goodbye? Oh no, please. Can’t we just go back to page one and start all over again?” – Winnie The Pooh

From the way you phrase yourself around it, it seems as if you agree with the quote “God had, from eternity, a prescience or foreknowledge of all future events; of all future contingencies, even of the free actions of men's wills; of every thing that should be done in time, to the end of the world, and to all eternity.” Yet this author seems to believe in free will, and you obviously do not.

I believe that God is outside of time and knows the future even as he knows the past (both of which concepts are largely irrelevant to an eternal being), but that man still has freedom to act according to his own will. 2 Peter 3:9 says that it is God's desire that none should perish, but he permits men to perish if they would rather go against him than dwell forever in him. He's not constantly backpedaling against our rebellions which disrupt his plan because his entire plan is to offer salvation to each and every one of us. Thus, his plan is already accomplished, and what is there for our freedoms to thwart?

Maddi: Thank you.

Leinad: Before I answer your questions, do you mind explaining exactly what you mean by free will?

“D’ye know what Calvary was? What? What? What? It was damnation; and he took it lovingly.”
~John Duncan

I'm actually in a theology class at a Christian university right now, and we've spend several hours on free will vs divine foreknowledge. I don't come down as a hard Calvinist or Armenian. Do humans have free will or does God have divine, yes. Just yes. But open theism is, indeed, a distortion of Biblical truth.

Formerly Kestrel

I don't have much experience with theology and theological terminology, but I suppose I would describe free will as the ability to choose, uncompelled, between more than one course of action, i.e. the opposite of determinism. For example, tomorrow I could have eggs for breakfast, or I could skip breakfast and go on a killing spree, and from the perspective of the present it is not yet determined which of these things I will do.

Kestrel/Julie: I agree entirely. I hold to reformed doctrine, yet I agree that extremist Calvinism is something to avoid. I suppose that Open Theism could be described as an extreme form of Arminianism.

Hannah D.: Thank you.

Leinad: I would agree that from the perspective of finite man, the future is indeed undetermined. However, we both agree that God knows the future perfectly. Thus, from his perspective, the future is determined. Open theology claims that an action, in order to be truly free must be contingent and uncaused. This is why they deny the sovereignty of God, an attribute clearly taught in Scripture.

In affirming the sovereignty of God, I am not denying free will. Both free will and the sovereignty of God are affirmed in Scripture.

“D’ye know what Calvary was? What? What? What? It was damnation; and he took it lovingly.”
~John Duncan