As Open Theism becomes more popular many people want a clear and simple explanation of what it is. I’ve written this post for such a person. But if you already know what Open Theism is please feel free to share this post with your curious friends. I consider this post to be in perpetual development so I appreciate your feedback.
A PARTLY OPEN FUTURE
At the heart of it, Open Theism is the conviction that the future is partly open. What this means is that in general what you choose to do with your next moment has not already been written in stone or predetermined.
A PARTLY CLOSED FUTURE
Open Theism also teaches that the future is partly closed. This means that there are some things about the future that are not open. There are some things about the future that is written in stone and predetermined.
HOW CAN THIS BE SO?
Open Theists generally believe that because the future has not happened yet, it must be open. They believe that whether or not the future is open or closed is based on God’s foreknowledge, which in turn is based on what God has determined to do. But they believe that God does not do or determine everything. Therefore, those things that God determines to do in the future are “closed,” and those things that God has not determine to do in the future are “open.”
Example: If God does not determine every move you make tomorrow morning then you may wake up on time, eat breakfast and head to work early, or you may sleep in, miss breakfast and be late. Tomorrow is open. However, if – for whatever mysterious reason – God determines to cause you to wake up early, eat breakfast and head to work on time, or if he has determined that you sleep in, miss breakfast and be late, then the future is closed in those regards. What he determines will happen.
GOD IS STILL ALL KNOWING
Open Theists still believe in the classic Christian tenet known as “omniscience.” Simply put, God knows everything there is that can logically be known. However, since the future does not exist, it can not logically be known, at least not in the same way as the past and present.
This is where things sometimes get complicated, so let me explain. Everything that happened already can be known by an all knowing God because it has already happened. Everything that is presently happening can be known by an all knowing God because he knows it as it happens. But since the future does not exist it cannot be know in the same way as the past and present are known. Here is a classic parallel example: can God hear silence? The answer is no, God cannot hear silence because to “hear” something requires something to hear, and silence is the absence of sound. It is a logical contradiction. Thus, it is impossible for God to hear silence. Open Theists would say that likewise God cannot know the future because it does not exist. But remember, according to Open Theists, God knows everything that he determines to do, but he does not determine every detail of reality. Thus what he determines to do is closed (the future is partly closed) and what he has not determined to do leaves the future partly open meaning that there are some things that God has chosen not to know.
WHY DO PEOPLE BELIEVE OPEN THEISM?
Calvinism and Arminianism are systems of theology. They do the best they can with the biblical testimony, compiling all of the relevant data, and make a system out of it in an effort to understand how God works in this world. But if you wrestle with either of those popular views you’ll eventually have to wrestle with the philosophical implications they lead to. For example, the main view of Arminianism says that God “looks ahead” and sees all things before he creates. A main view of Calvinism is that God simple determines to cause all things to happen. Both views have further implications about the nature of time and as we journey down that road we find that we’ve journeyed far from systematic theology, through philosophy and straight into theoretical science.
Open Theism is no different. It is a system of theology that does the best it can with the biblical testimony, compiling all of the relevant data, and making a system out of it in an effort to understand how God works in this world. [Update: In terms of soteriology, Open Theism is a branch of Arminianism and shares it’s system, but in terms of the nature of God and time, Open Theism’ distinctions warrant it’s own system in that regard.] So far we’ve talked about philosophy and not scripture, but that is because Open Theism takes a different approach to the nature of time than traditional theology, and that scares some people. But Open Theism is rooted in scripture.
OPEN THEISM IS ‘BIBLICAL’
Open Theism is biblical in the sense that it is a system of theology rooted in the scriptures in the same way Calvinism and Arminianism are. For example, God changes his mind in answer to prayers (ex. Exod. 32:14; Num. 14:12-20; Deut. 9:13-14, 18-20, 25; 1 Sam. 2:27-36; 2 Kings 20:1-7 etc.); he often expresses regret (1 Sam 15:10,35; Ezek. 22:29-31); and surprise (Isa. 5:3-7; Jer. 3:6-7; 19-20); and sometimes He talks about what may or may not happen (Exod. 3:18-4:9; 13:17; Jer. 3 8:17-18, 20-21, 23; Ezek. 12:1-3), and so on (source). None of this makes any sense, argues Open Theists, if the future is absolutely closed.
OPEN THEISM IS A CHRISTIAN OPTION
None of what I said above is meant to imply that Open Theism is correct. Indeed there are some tough questions without satisfying answers that Open Theists have to wrestle with. But it’s the same with Calvinism and Arminianism. In summarizing Open Theism I want to advocate that a spot remain open at the Evangelical table for them in equal measure. It has every right to the evangelical Christian label as Calvinism and Arminianism.
ASK YOUR QUESTIONS IN THE COMMENT BOX BELOW
[Editors note: This post will remain “open” and in development as questions are answered, parts are elaborated on and new sections are created.]