WHAT IS 'OPEN THEISM'? Is It a Dangerous Teaching?

It's Not All Bad, But Be Aware of the Dangers...

'Open Theism' has offered fascinating insights and asked a few reasonable questions, but it cannot leave us with a God Who is unsure, or even confused, about the future. That is not a biblical God.

W hat, I have been asked, is "Open Theism"? Is it an acceptable new enquiry upon the nature of God, or is it yet another dangerous heretical teaching which perverts the Word of God??

Open Theism, occasionally called the 'open view,' or 'the open view of God,' is a theological position which considers the general area of human will and free will and how that corresponds/correlates with an omnipotent God, and especially an omniscient God (who knows all things), especially with regard to the future. Can we human beings make serious decisions and choices - or has God effectively already mapped out the future for every one of us? For some theorists, in order for our free will to be truly free, the future free will choices of individuals cannot be known ahead of time, even by an all-powerful, all-knowing God. In short, they would say, if God knows what we are going to choose, then how can we be truly free when it is time to make those choices (that is, if our choices and decisions are already known, or already 'written' in Heaven)?

'Open theists' who hold that the future is knowable by God maintain that God voluntarily limits His knowledge of free will choices so that they can remain truly free. An all-powerful God is certainly able to do that. That is probably a reasonable point of view which many of us might support, however, other open theists maintain that the future, being non existent, is not knowable - not even by God. This, however, cannot be supported by Scripture. Gregory Boyd, a well-known advocate of Open Theism, states it like this,

"Much of it [the future], open theists will concede, is settled ahead of time, either by God's predestining will or by existing earthly causes, but it is not exhaustively settled ahead of time. To whatever degree the future is yet open to be decided by free agents, it is unsettled."

This does not mean that 'Open Theism' is saying that that God is weak or powerless - far from it. That would be to completely misunderstand it. They simply state that God is capable of predicting and ordaining certain future events because He is capable of working in the world and bringing certain events to pass when the time is needed. Therefore, God could inspire the Old Testament writers to prophesy certain events , then He could simply ensure that those events occurred at the right time. But this would not necessarily mean that God has an exhaustive knowledge of the future, even including what you or I may decide to have for lunch on the second Tuesday in April five years from now. It seems a fair point, but read on.

So Open Theists - for the most part - claim that they do not deny the omniscience of God. They agree that God is all-knowing. They simply differ in suggesting that God can only know that which is knowable; and since the future has not yet happened, it cannot be exhaustively known by God. Instead, God only knows the past and present exhaustively, including the inclinations, desires, thoughts, and hopes of all people - sinners and righteous alike. For the future, God has all the main points decided, but not everything, and there are some areas where the will of God may change - due to earnest prayer, for example.

In Open Theism God can also make mistakes because He does not know all things that will occur in the future. According to this reasoning, God also takes risks and He sometimes adapts to the free-will choices of people. They claim Biblical support for their position by citing Scripture where God changes His mind (Exodus 32:14), is surprised (Isaiah 5:3-7), and tests people to see what they will do (Genesis 22:12).

What Has Traditional, Historic Christianity Said?

Historic Christianity states that God knows all things, even the entirety of the future, exhaustively. 1 John 3:20 it says, " . . . for God is greater than our heart, and knows all things." Likewise, Peter said to Jesus in John 21:17, " . . . You know all things; You know that I love You . . . " God's sovereignty is clearly taught in scripture and His sovereignty is tied to His omniscience. Therefore established Christianity teaches that God is very loving, very involved, and even condescends to our level and interacts with us in a manner that we can understand. This means that we will see what appears to be instances of God changing His mind, testing, and adapting. But, this is all due to God's working with creatures who have limited vision, short life spans, and are sinners. God must work on our level since we cannot work on His. This is sometimes known as 'accomodationism,' in which God comes down to our level of understanding in order to teach us vital principles; so Scripture may show God fretting, being sorry, being regretful, but all of this is for our benefit. In truth God knows all things and is unchanging.


There is no doubt that some areas of 'Open Theism' have raised some very fair and even intriguing points. Perhaps a big problem here is that Christian Theology has never discussed some of these areas in the past. Maybe we should have done so before now. There are, however, certain dangers in depicting a God who is not really sure how things might turn out; that would surely not be an all-powerful God. However, there seems little doubt that while God does know all things and could know every single detail of the future, He is well able to put that aside in His everyday dealings with people, He does genuinely wait upon our spiritual decisions at the same time as being aware that the name of every single saved person is already entered into The Book of Life.

I do not reject everything which Open Theism has stated and it contains some good insights, but we must be aware of the dangers. To state that 'God can make mistakes because He does not know all things that will occur in the future' is to go too far and is clearly erroneous when compared with Scriptural teaching, presenting us with a God who is never quite in control. On the other hand, Scripture is clear that God can be swayed by earnest prayers from His people, however, there again, many of us would say that a prayer is only answered because it is written in Heaven that such a prayer, or prayers, would be answered. God is never deprived of His sovereignty in this manner.

So 'Open Theism' has presented a few valuable points but its dangers are great, especially in its more peripheral areas. Christians must hold on to the view of God which is presented in Scripture. Above all, we must avoid any acceptance of the idea of a whimsical, changeable God who frets about the future; yes, God loves to see His people look to Him in faith and is saddened by poor decisions and poor choices, nevertheless, He allows us to make those choices and we can be assured that it is written in Eternity that we made poor choices at certain times, maybe we had to, but they were for our ultimate spiritual good. But does God know every single detail about the future? I believe, yes, but He is able to put that to one side as He deals with His human creation in the here and now. A truly omniscient God can do that.

In a truly biblical theology, God's sovereignty must remain supreme!

For the Lord Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back? (Isaiah 14:27).

Yes, and from ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it? (Isaiah 43:13).

Then Job replied to the Lord: "I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted." (Job 42:1-2).

"...Lord, the God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you." (2 Chronicles 20:6b).

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession - to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1: 11-14).

Robin A. Brace. April 5th, 2015.