heresy, Open Theism and the book of the week

19 thoughts on “heresy, Open Theism and the book of the week”

  1. Interesting post. Open theism always intrigued me because it says nothing different about God, but only something different about creation. Future events are non-existent until they happen, therefore to say God knows the future or predestined all things is a non-sequitur. I’m not sure I can go all the way there, but a very interesting book on the topic is “Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views.” It is interesting because Greg Boyd is the one who exegetes the most Scripture and the other three fellows spend more time doing philosophy. That may also be why Boyd gets the teachings of Jesus about ethical issues and the importance of prayer and allegiance to God over flags correct.
    Anyhow, I totally agree with your assessment, Open Theism is not heresy because it does not really effect one’s views of God’s action in Jesus Christ to save. As far as I can tell, one could really be an Open-Theist and a Calvinist. If I believe that God does not plan everything out, but that he still actively converts some and not others, but still lets people make all their other choices, I’d be a five point Calvinist with regards to salvation, but an Open-Theist with regards to whether or not the future already exists. Weird huh?

  2. Though I disagree with open theism, I must agree with this post regarding what we label as heretical. It is ironic how the different camps of this debate use often the same scriptures to support their views.

    Honestly, the best book I’ve read on this matter is Norman Geisler’s “Chosen But Free,” which I’m sure someone has told you about by now. Good middle ground stuff, in my opinion.

    Good post, Josh. You do well by calling the church to be honest with itself about matters of theology that should be held with an open hand, not a closed fist.

  3. In my understanding of Open Theism, its main distinction from Arminianism is the God does not have foreknowledge — or rather, improper or incomplete foreknowledge — of the future. I think this has strong implications in that anything that He plans could be subject to error. But I don’t know how far this imperfect foreknowledge goes. It may be regarded differently. I’m just not that familiar with Open Theism.

    Good post, though.

  4. The hostility of the debate boils down to oversimplifying each side. An Armenian would claim that the Calvinist’s God is cruel. The Calvinist would claim that the Armenian’s God is ignorant.

    Most of my problems with Open Theism aren’t theological, they’re philosophical. The two main problems are the definitions “of time” and “free will”.

    A Calvinist defines time as a fourth dimension, a part of creation. God created space AND time. Therefore, He exists outside of time, and the rest follows logically. The problem to the Open Theist is that here, God created a timeline where many of the souls he created eventually go to Hell, and that, by our human standards, is unjust.
    Open Theism sees God as existing in a timeline along with us, responding to the thoughts and desires of His creation, and making just decisions by condemning and saving in a just manner. The problem to Calvinists is that this God is just as “trapped” in this timeline as we are. And that, by our human reasoning, is illogical.

    Calvinists see free will as the ability to make decisions based on our desires, which stem from the natural cause/effect relationship inherent in our time/space continuum. This is logical to the Calvinist but frightening to the Open Theists.
    Open Theists see free will as the ability to make multiple decisions based on our desires and an indefinable force (basically: free will) which defines itself in real time, and cannot be concretely defined externally by God or man. This is fair and just to the Open Theist, but frightening to the Calvinist.

    I could go on, but this is a comments section, not a book, and I feel I’ve already overstayed my welcome. I hope that you find some arguments for Calvinism that aren’t straw-man arguments, because they’re certainly out there. If you take that road, you’ll eventually have to pick which theology you will believe: the one that has gaping holes in logic (according to our understanding) or the one that has gaping holes in justice (according to our understanding).

  5. Hey Josh, very interesting. I suggest that you read and review “Mystical Union” by John Crowder. I would be very interested in hearing what you think of his theology.

  6. Yes, I like the main point of this post. If we don’t learn to disagree on the gray areas will, we well never lead any on to Christ.

    I like Greg Boyd, but I blieve in the godhead (I would even go as far to say I’m pentecostal), so I can’t say I totally agree with him. He has alot good ideas thou.

    I don’t agree with some of the stuff writen in each of the these books but they make me think (They have nothing to do with the topic of free will).

    Surprised by Hope
    Radical by David Platt
    Simply Christen writen by N.T Wright

  7. Thor here, if you remember from the show in KC this evening.

    It’s interesting the variety of folks who follow Showbread/Josh Dies.
    I’d be one of those Calvinists you’re talking about.
    A debate between Calvinist James White and Open Theist John Sanders back in 2002 offers some insight and lively discussion on this issue.

    Just a portion, but the rest can be found at White’s website as an mp3 download (cost: $3.75).

    Do continue to share your thoughts on this, brother. Interested in hearing what you’ve been thinking.

    God bless,

  8. I admit that I am pretty childlike in my understandings of who god is and what he’s like.the older I get and the further along I get on this journey the less I think I actually understand him and yet I am convinced that I am loved by god,that he is good,and that I am to rest in him alone.I don’t think that struggling to understand him makes any of us heretics-it just keeps us seeking him and pressing deeper into the idea of who he truly is and what he wants to make of’s a love story,really…I don’t need answers anymore.I just need his presence.I find my contentment in the cleft of that rock as his glory passes by…anyway.since I really don’t have a fixed opinion of calvin,or open theism…just wondering…what does the idea of open theism do with a verse like psalm 139:16.just thinking out loud.god bless.:)

  9. I’m sorry, I’m going to have to disagree with you, Josh. Open Theism is very much a heresy. I admit that I am not a Biblical scholar, and have not spent years with rigorous theological study. And I also don’t just dismiss something as a heresy because someone says it is. And further, I know that there are many gray areas in our understanding of Scripture (though Scripture itself is very clear).

    But, the Bible very clearly teaches that God knows everything. This would include time, as time did not exist before Creation. (Evening and morning were the first day.) The part where it is a heresy is because it denies God’s omniscience. Either God knows everything, which the Bible says, or He doesn’t, which is contrary to the Bible. Which means, He either knows the future, or He doesn’t. That means that God knows all possibilities, but also that He knows which ones people will choose. If God does not know exactly how each individual person will act, then He doesn’t know everything.

    The Open Theist would argue that this denies man as a free agent. And that’s why Open Theism is a heresy, because it believes in the free agency of man. Man can’t be a free agent, because either God is all powerful, or He isn’t. Of course, there is the Doctrines of Grace view of people choosing because God predestines them, or the Armininian view of God predestining because He knows what people will choose, but neither of those denies the omnipotence of God. Basically, any belief that says that people can actively change the course of history in a way that God did not fully plan and know is a heresy. Because otherwise, how did Jesus know that the timing of His coming was correct? And how does God know that Satan won’t somehow win in the end?

    Now, I don’t want to judge people, and Josh, I don’t know if my description of Open Theism is what you understand Open Theism to be. But, that is what Open Theism is, and if you or some theologian doesn’t believe in that, then you or them don’t really believe in Open Theism. I don’t want to sound preachy, but I’m concerned that you’re on a dangerous path. I try to be open to different ideas about the Bible, and I encourage others to be, but we need to be sure that we are open only to the Truth, and not open to Error.

    A concerned admirer of your music and art.

    1. Firstly, thanks so much for the thoughtful insight and non-condemning approach to the conversation! The problem with your black-and-white logic, in my own estimation anyway, is that you take for granted that your own interpretation of scripture is what “the Bible says” and another interpretation is “contrary to the Bible.”

      Yes, the bible clearly teaches God is omniscient, and all open theists affirm this. I think the debate here is not over whether or not God has perfect knowledge, as all evangelical Christians are in agreement that he does. The debate is over the nature of the future of itself and whether or not God has ordained that the entire future is settled or if he has, in his omnipotence, ordained that some of the future does not exist yet. If there were a room that was completely empty and God filled it with three chairs and someone argued that God had no knowledge of a fourth chair, the argument would be nonsensical—if there is no fourth chair, it is illogical to say that God doesn’t know about a fourth chair, there is no fourth chair to know about precisely because God put no fourth chair in the room.

      Open theists, therefore, affirm that not only is God’s knowledge of the past, present and future perfect, but that God also has perfect knowledge of all possible outcomes within the moments of the future he allows to be “open.” By the traditional logic used against open theists, one could argue that the Calvinist’s understanding of God limits God’s knowledge, for it understands that there are no possibilities other than what God predestines and God has no knowledge of other possibilities because no other possibilities exist. No one makes this argument however, because it uses faulty logic against the Calvinist’s understanding of God’s knowledge.

      Also, it’s very important to mention that while the bible does teach that God knows all things, it also portrays God as changing his mind (Exod. 32:14; Num. 14:12–20; Deut. 9:13–14, 18–20, 25; 1 Sam. 2:27–36; 2 Kings 20:1–7; 1 Chron. 21:15; Jer. 26:19; Ezek. 20:5–22; Amos 7:1–6; Jonah 1:2; 3:2, 4–10), as experiencing regret and disappointment over how things turned out—sometimes even including the results of his own will. (Gen. 6:5–6; 1 Sam. 15:10, 35; Ezek. 22:29–31), as experiencing “surprise” at how things turned out because he expected a different outcome (Isa. 5:3–7; Jer. 3:67; 19–20), as testing his people to find out whether they’ll remain faithful to him (Gen. 22:12; Exod. 16:4; Deut. 8:2; 13:1–3; Judges 2:20–3:5; 2 Chron. 32:31), as asking non-rhetorical questions about the future (Num. 14:11; Hos. 8:5), as speaking to people in terms of what may or may not happen (Exod. 3:18–4:9; 13:17; Jer. 38:17–18, 20–21, 23; Ezek. 12:1–3), and frequently speaking of the future in terms of what may and may not come to pass (Ex.4:1-7; Ex. 13:17; Ezek 12:3). Now, obviously, classic theists and calvinists have interpretations that “explain away” these instances just as open theists have interpretations that “explain away” scriptures that seem to teach that God has exhaustively settled all future events. This has been the case within christian theology for centuries. it seems opponents of open theism are not prepared to be even-handed.

      you claim that any doctrine of free-will is heresy, but i’m not sure you’re prepared to accept the full-weight of that statement, as almost every theological position outside of rigorous Calvinism affirms that man is a free agent. Man’s free-will is a readily accepted Christian doctrine that has been openly taught for ages without charges of heresy. Bigwigs like C.S. Lewis have written at great length about the importance of free-will as a foundational doctrine. Not to mention the fact that open theists are farm from the only group within traditional evangelical theology that believe that prayer can and will, literally, change reality. You say that “any belief that says that people can actively change the course of history in a way that God did not fully plan and know is a heresy”, yet the bible is filled with stories like the one in 2 Kings 20:1-6 where that is precisely what happens. Not because God is subject to man, but because God has, in his sovereignty, ordained that man’s actions and prayers have influence over creation.

      According to your logic you must either argue that a) 2 Kings 20:1-6 is heretical (which I’m sure you would not) or b) that the scripture does not mean what it appears to mean. If you apply the “b” logic, then you join the ranks of open theists (and all theologians) who reconcile seemingly contradictory scripture by understanding some things to be specific to a certain context, metaphor, hyperbole, anthropomorphism, etc. that reinterprets the meaning of certain scriptures in a new light. Why are open theists singled out as heretics when they do this in the same manner all Christians do? An enormous myriad of Christians who are not open theists believe that it is crucial to accept that as a result of free-will, things can and do transpire contrary to God’s will (death, adultery, murder, rape, molestation, the holocaust, etc. etc.) otherwise God is responsible for evil, which many would claim is heresy. Open theists are by no means alone in this belief, in fact they represent a minority of its population. According to your logic, almost every Christian who is not a calvinist is a heretic.

      Calvinists teach that God specifically creates some individuals, who have no choice, for the sole purpose of sending them to hell for eternity. Many Christians would argue that this is unbelievably contrary to the entire trajectory of the bible and God’s character, yet Calvinists (presumably because of a larger presence throughout church history) never experience the amount of backlash that open theists experience. The Calvinist has his way of reconciling what many see as heretical and even blasphemous with scripture, just as the open theist does.

      Finally, you claim your understanding of open theism is ultimate. You say “if you or some theologian doesn’t believe in that, then you or them don’t really believe in Open Theism.” With all due respect, your understanding of exactly what open theism seems, if i may, a bit narrow and flawed. Maybe you already have, but i would recommend reading some dense books on the topic (namely, “The God Who Risks” by John Sanders, revised edition, and “God of the Possible” by Greg Boyd) for a more robust understanding of exactly what the open theist believes and how they read scripture. Most importantly, spend a good bit of time in prayer over the subject, not so that you can be co-opted into my way of thinking, but so that you (and i) can best learn God’s heart for understanding and encouraging one another without condemnation and unwarranted charges of heresy.

      My point is not to convert classic theists to open theistm, as i believe both positions are valid. My point is that Christians would do well to accept one another and be slow to throw around the “H-word”, especially when our knowledge of the position we attack is limited. You and I both affirm Jesus, let’s not make this debate or the fact that we have something at odds more present than the fact that we have all in common in King Jesus! I affirm that though i believe that my position is most valid, i am completely fallible and endlessly subject to error. At the end of the day, I may be wrong, but Jesus is Jesus and I will follow no matter what!

      Do not concern yourself with the path I am taking, for my path is the narrow road of Jesus Christ. Do not worry anymore than I worry that your position paints a nasty, unbiblical picture of Jesus. I may be right, you may be right, but I think what we agree on washes away the need to go on arguing!

      1. Wow! I didn’t think that I would get a response!

        I apologize if my post sounded harsh or judgmental, I’ve found that it’s often difficult to know how someone else will understand you.

        First, I want to make it very clear that I strive very, very hard not to call someone a Heretic and unbeliever, as only God knows the heart. However, calling a teaching Heretical is a different story.
        Now, I do admit that every single person on the planet has some heresy, as no one will have a perfect understanding of the Scriptures until they’re with Christ. However, some Heresies (I’ll use a capital “H” to signify) deny essential aspects of the Gospel, and therefore outside Christianity.

        I’ll admit that my knowledge is faulty, and I have been too quick to condemn some things as Heresy in the past, because I did not understand them. But, because of your blog post, I examined Open Theism, and though I have not read any long, exhaustive works or books, what I have found is not Christian at all. The following is a quote from one of the leading proponents of Open Theism, David Basinger:

        “In fact, we do not even believe that God always knows beforehand exactly how things will turn out in the future . . . God does know all that will follow deterministically from what has occurred, and can, as the ultimate psychoanalyst, predict with great accuracy what we as humans will freely choose to do in various contexts . . .But . . . we believe that God can never know with certainty what will happen in any context involving freedom of choice.”

        And here is a quote by Clark Pinnock: “God can predict a great deal of what we will choose to do, but not all of it, because some of it remains hidden in the mystery of human freedom.”

        Those statements are direct denials of God’s omniscience, and by extension His omnipotence. I don’t know if all Open Theists believe the statements above or not, and if they don’t, then I apologize for lumping them all into the same boat. But the above is not Christian at all.
        I of course think that ultimately the Calvinist/Reformed/Doctrines of Grace view is the only true position, or else I wouldn’t believe it! But Arminianism/Wesleyanism doesn’t directly deny God’s sovereignty and omniscience. As you mentioned, there are extreme forms of Calvinism (which aren’t Calvinistic!) that says that God knows only one possibility, the one that He carries out, but that is as Heretical as some (I’m giving the benefit of the doubt here) forms of Open Theism are, as an omniscient God must know all possibilities.

        But the main point is this: Any doctrine that denies a Truth that is essential to the Gospel, than that doctrine is a damnable Heresy, no matter how much it claims to have Scriptural support. Now, I might misunderstand the teachings of that doctrine, and for that I apologize, but anything that denies the Gospel is False. I agree that all Christians have some error, and that we need to stick together and not let differences divides us. But, Christianity has absolutely no room for Heretical error that leads to Hell. Even if some of that Heresy holds tenets that I agree with or even that are True, Christians shouldn’t just “wash it away.”

        I have given this discussion much thought, and I will admit that I should do a deal more prayer. I don’t know nearly as much about the Bible as I should, and I don’t know a real lot about the intricacies of Open Theism. But there definitely are some false teachers who claim that doctrine, and I have no qualms about calling them out.

        Anyway, it’s amazing that I’ve gotten to talk to you, and you have given me much to think about. I’ll try to find the books you mentioned, and also try to find time to read them. Thanks for listening!

      2. SavioursSamurai and Josh:

        First off, I appreciate that you are both showing kindness to one another even though you clearly disagree. We don’t see that enough.

        Josh, you’ve done a great job of explaining open theism and showing why it shouldn’t be considered heresy by those who disagree with it.

        SavioursSamurai, it seems to me that what keeps hanging you up is your definition of omniscience. You say that the major flaw in the excerpts you quoted from Pinnock and Basinger is that they “are direct denials of God’s omniscience, and by extension His omnipotence.”

        I would suggest you are bringing a particular definition of “omniscience” to the biblical text. You believe that the future is exhaustively settled because of God’s providential control. Pinnock and Basinger believe that the future exists as partially settled and partially open. But here’s the important thing: all of you agree that God knows knows the future exhaustively.

        A reasonable definition of omniscience would be “knowing everything there is to know”. You, Pinnock and Basinger all believe that God knows everything there is to know.

        So it seems to me that your gripe with Open Theism is not that they deny God’s omniscience, but that you disagree with the way they understand the future to exist and the way they understand God to have set up creation.

        That’s a fine debate to have, but the loser shouldn’t be labeled a heretic. Neither you nor Pinnock/Basinger are denying any of the essential attributes of God. You’re simply having a disagreement about the nature of His creation and all parties have Scripture, logic, and philosophy that underpin their beliefs. They all take seriously the calling to know and understand God as best they can.

        Calling one position or the other heretical is unhelpful.

        I would strongly recommend reading the book Josh suggested by Gregory Boy, God of the Possible. Before we start using the “H-word” we would be wise to first give them the benefit of the doubt and then to attempt to fully understand their position. God of the Possible isn’t very long it it should help you understand where some of your brothers and sisters in Christ are coming from.

  10. I know that I should read “God of the Possible” before I say anything more about Open Theism. But I would like to know something: If Open Theists believe that God knows the future exhaustively, then how is that different from “Classic” Christian belief? The whole idea behind Open Theism is denying the “Classical” view of the future. And the above quotes I gave above by Basinger and Pinnock directly deny that God knows everything about the future.

    Basically, if God sees all possibilities, and knows which ones people will choose, then according to libertarian philosophy (on which Open Theism is based), those choices were not free. But if God doesn’t know some possibilities people will choose, then He doesn’t know everything about the future, as some of it is unknown. And this denies Jesus’s claim to be omnipresent in time, by His statement “before Abraham was, I AM.” And anything that denies Jesus’s character denies the Gospel, because it is based on Christ.

    So I guess to answer my question I’ll need to find Boyd’s book.

    1. This is the reason I believe Open Theism as a teaching to be a damnable heresy:

      Isa 46:1 Bel bows down, Nebo stoops; Their idols were on the beasts and on the cattle. Your carriages were heavily loaded, A burden to the weary beast.
      2 They stoop, they bow down together; They could not deliver the burden, But have themselves gone into captivity.
      3 “Listen to Me, O house of Jacob, And all the remnant of the house of Israel, Who have been upheld by Me from birth, Who have been carried from the womb:
      4 Even to your old age, I am He, And even to gray hairs I will carry you! I have made, and I will bear; Even I will carry, and will deliver you.
      5 “To whom will you liken Me, and make Me equal And compare Me, that we should be alike?
      6 They lavish gold out of the bag, And weigh silver on the scales; They hire a goldsmith, and he makes it a god; They prostrate themselves, yes, they worship.
      7 They bear it on the shoulder, they carry it And set it in its place, and it stands; From its place it shall not move. Though one cries out to it, yet it cannot answer Nor save him out of his trouble.
      8 “Remember this, and show yourselves men; Recall to mind, O you transgressors.
      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,
      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,’
      11 Calling a bird of prey from the east, The man who executes My counsel, from a far country. Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it.
      12 “Listen to Me, you stubborn-hearted, Who are far from righteousness:
      13 I bring My righteousness near, it shall not be far off; My salvation shall not linger. And I will place salvation in Zion, For Israel My glory.

      So my question I need to have answered is how can the God of Open Theism not know the future without denying His very character, when this verse unequivocally states that He knows “the end from the beginning,” and indicates that it is an idol god that does not know the future?

      This discussion has lead to a great deal of thought and prayer on my part, and I have much to consider. Open Theism as taught by Basinger is definitely damnable heresy, but I don’t want to condemn the teachings of Boyd and Pinnock without first reading their books, and I think I’ll drop the subject on here at least until I’ve read their books. I’m eager to see how they explain the above passage.

      Thank you for giving me something to think about.

      1. thanks a lot for thinking! i hope you have time to read a bit more, i’m sure you’ll find that, at the very least, it’s all terribly interesting. Boyd’s book in particular addresses the very scripture you’ve cited here.

        not to beat a dead horse, but i think the problem we’re still having in understanding each other has to do with the nature of the future itself, not God’s foreknowledge. we both affirm, as do all Christians, that God is omniscient. however, you believe that the future is exhaustively settled and i believe that it is partly settled and partly open. meaning that the sovereign God has chosen that certain elements of the future do not yet exist. so the issue is not over what God knows—God knows all there is to know—you and i just disagree about how much is there to be known.

        denying God is omniscient is certainly big business, but open theists do not deny this. we simply deny that the bible teaches that the future is completely settled and we do so on the basis of scripture. if i may, respectfully, saying things like “definitely damnable heresy” is very strong, condemning language. perhaps you do not mean it to be as cruel as it sounds, but one could read it and imagine that you’re speaking for the salvation of thousands of strangers based on a theological opinion that you don’t yet fully understand. you’re saying that open theists will be damned to hell because they believe the bible teaches that the future is partly open? seems tough!

  11. Great dialogue going on here. I may be late to the party but I have one thing I’d like to add here. Putting my cards on the table, I am an open theist and a Christian. As a Christian, I have already decided on a great number of things heading into this debate, such as the sovereignty and omniscience of God, the divinity of Christ, and so on.

    One of the central keys to good hermeneutics is to ask a lot of questions. So, one line of questioning I asked myself during my pondering on this topic was, (1) “Could a sovereign God choose to make a world where actual free choice existed?” I have yet to meet anyone answer no to this question. It is at least possible since God can has all power and is completely sovereign.

    Now I have to ask, (2) “In order for God to make that world where people have actual free choice would He have to willingly, out of His own sovereignty, limit Himself in some way?” The person believing in Simple Foreknowledge (also represented in the 4 Views book mentioned above) would say no. However, the Open Theist would say yes. Why? Because God knows differently than we know. When we know, we could be wrong. We knew the Earth was the center, flat, and all that. However, when God knows something He cannot be wrong. So, the open theist would give this example. If I can choose red or blue, and God knows I’m going to choose blue, I can’t choose red, because God can’t be wrong, so I really never had a choice.

    It is at this point that many will claim heresy (which is an improper usage of the term but that’s for another conversation). It is here that many see open theists as denying the omnipotence of God because He doesn’t know the choice ahead of time. However, I think it’s key to recall the beginning of the process. At creation, it was possible for God to choose to make a world where actual free choice was an ontological reality. If the open theist is right, God doesn’t know future free acts for two reasons. It isn’t because He is inferior in some way. It’s because in His sovereignty He chose to make this particular kind of world out of all the kinds of worlds He could have created. If He did make this kind of world, the future free act is, by God’s design, not a thing to know. It doesn’t exist yet. It is not yet an ontological reality.

    From here we have to ask, (3) “Did God, in fact, make that world or not?” For that, Calvinists, Armenians, and Open Theists will all have to turn to the scriptures.

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