Does God Know Everything?

11 04 2010

About ‘Open Theism’

Greg Boyd

Part 1: Greg Boyd was a Calvinist for a few years, he can understand how someone can believe it – but he can’t understand how anyone can actually like it (haha).

Part 2: The future is not eternally settled, but is partly open to possibilities.

Part 3: An open theist can say: that whatever comes to pass, God, for all eternity has anticipated that event would come to pass, and therefore he has a plan in place so that good will prevail over evil. God is so smart that he didn’t have to know for certain that it would come to pass in order to have a plan prepared in responds. The open theist can give the exact same assurance as any Arminian can; its just that the open theist has a smarter view of God. Any God that would gain anything out of having a blueprint of how things will definitely play out, instead of anticipating possibilities of how things could play out – he would be a finite God. If you were playing chess with God, and he told you that in 6 moves you were going to be ‘check mated’, and then Gabriel came over and whispered to God “hey God, I’ve got a crystal ball and I can tell you how he’s going to move”; God would take that as an insult. Why would God need that?! That doesn’t help Him at all because he’s been anticipating every move they can possibly make, as though it were the only possibility! If you have confidence in God’s intelligence, then you’d be as comfortable with him facing possibilities, as you are with him facing certainties.

Part 4: ‘Possibility’ – some say that God tests us for our sake, not for his sake. But the passages in the Bible indicate the exact opposite; it says God tests the people so that He would know.

Part 5: Picture 3 chess champions – chess champion #1 is playing the program that he himself programed (therefore he’s assured of winning) – chess champion #2 is playing a program that she didn’t program, but she has a printout of exactly how the computer will respond to every possible move. (#1 controls the opponent; #2 for-knows the opponent). Chess champion #3 is playing a human being. #3 is assured of winning not because she controls the opponent, or because she for-knows the moves of her opponent – but because she is SO smart! Which of the chess champions is most praise worthy / worthy of praise? (#3!) The Bible exalts God’s wisdom at least as much as it exalts his power; and wisdom is problem solving ability – how to outsmart other agents. The ‘open view’ is the only one that has to rely on God’s wisdom to outsmart other agents.

Part 6: Used to really puzzle over why God would create human beings that he Knew were going to go to hell. He can understand why God would give freedom with the risk that people might use it to damn themselves and maybe harm other people (and so on). But why would you give freedom if you know (you preordained/predestined them… which might technically mean that you never really gave them freedom in the first place) they’re going to use that freedom in a way thats going to land them in eternal hell.

Part 7: Analogy that makes sense of it all (practical example as to why this view makes sense)

Part 8: Question & Answer

Part 9: Question & Answer

Part 10: Question & Answer

Part 11: Question & Answer

Part 12: Question & Answer

Part 13: Question & Answer

A Brief Outline and Defense of the Open View

While many Christians have found the open view of the future to be the most helpful and accurate view of God’s foreknowledge of the future based on biblical, philosophical, and experiential evidence, others have criticized the view as unorthodox and even heretical. What follows is a brief description and defense of the open view prepared in 1996 for the Overseers of the Baptist General Conference.

Outline of Open View

I unequivocally affirm that God possesses every divine perfection, including the attributes of omnipotence and omniscience. I believe that God is the sovereign Creator and Lord, leading history toward his desired end, yet granting freedom to his creatures as he wills. He knows and can reveal all that he has determined about the future, thus declaring “the end from the beginning” (Isa. 46:10). I believe that God is perfectly wise and knows all reality exactly as it is.

The issue concerning the “openness of the future” is not about the infallibility or fallibility of God’s foreknowledge, but rather about the nature of the future which God infallibly foreknows. Is it exclusively foreknown and predetermined by God, or does God determine some aspects of the future and sovereignly allow other aspects to remain open?

Many passages of Scripture depict God as foreknowing and/or predetermining certain things about the future. But there are also many passages that depict the future is open (not determined) and depict God as knowing it as a realm partly comprised of possibilities.

Some examples of these Scriptures include:

The Lord frequently changes his mind in the light of changing circumstances, or as a result of prayer (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). At other times he explicitly states that he will change his mind if circumstances change (Jer. 18:7–11; 26:2–3; Ezek. 33:13–15). This willingness to change is portrayed as one of God’s attributes of greatness (Joel 2:13–14; Jonah 4:2).

Sometimes God expresses 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).

At other times he tells us that he is surprised at how things turned out because he expected a different outcome (Isa. 5:3–7; Jer. 3:67; 19–20).

The Lord frequently tests 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).

The Lord sometimes asks non-rhetorical questions about the future (Num. 14:11; Hos. 8:5) and speaks 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).

The Lord frequently speaks of the future in terms of what may and may not come to pass (Ex.4:1-7; Ex. 13:17; Ezek 12:3).

Classical theologians often consider only the passages that demonstrate that the future is settled either in God’s mind (foreknowledge) or in God’s will (predestination) as revealing the whole truth about God’s knowledge of the future. They interpret passages (such as the above) that suggest God faces a partly open future as merely figurative. I do not see this approach as warranted on either exegetical or theological grounds. I am therefore compelled to interpret both sets of passages as equally literal and therefore draw the conclusion that the future that God faces is partly open and partly settled.

Common Objections

1: The Open view undermines God’s omniscience

Response: I affirm (because Scripture teaches) that God is absolutely all knowing. There is no difference in my understanding of God’s omniscience and that of any other classical theologian, but I hold that part of the reality which God perfectly knows consists of possibilities as well as actualities. The difference lies in our understanding of the nature of the future, not in our understanding of God’s omniscience.

2. The open view undermines God’s Omnipotence

Response: I affirm (because Scripture teaches) that God is omnipotent. He is Creator of all things and thus all power comes from him. As with all Arminians, I also hold that God limits the exercise of his own power by giving free will to those whom he has created in his own image.

3. The open view undermines our confidence in God’s ability to accomplish his purposes

Response: I affirm (because Scripture teaches) that God can and has guaranteed whatever he wants about the future, since he is omnipotent. I also affirm (because Scripture also teaches) that God created us with the capacity to love, and thus empowered us to decide some matters for ourselves. Within the parameters set by the Creator, parameters which guarantee whatever God wants to guarantee about the future, humans have some degree of self-determination. This means that concerning the fate of particular individuals things may not turn out as God desires. If we deny this, we must accept that God actually desires some people to go to hell. Scripture denies this (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9).

4. The open view undermines God’s perfection

Response: I affirm (because Scripture teaches) the absolute perfection of God. I do not see, however, that Scripture teaches that the future must be predetermined either in God’s mind or in God’s will for God to be perfect. Rather, I believe that God’s perfection is more exalted when we understand him to be so transcendent in his power that he genuinely gives free will to morally responsible agents.

5. The open view undermines the power of prayer

Response: I affirm (because Scripture teaches) that petitionary prayer is our most powerful tool in bringing about the Father’s will “on earth as it is in heaven.” Indeed, because my view allows for the future to be somewhat open, I believe it makes the best sense out of the urgency and efficaciousness which Scripture attaches to prayer.

6. The open view cannot account for biblical prophecy

Response: I affirm (because Scripture teaches) that God can and does determine and predict the future whenever it suits his sovereign purposes to do so. But I deny that this logically entails, or that Scripture teaches, that the future is exhaustively determined. God is wise enough to be able to achieve his purposes while allowing his creatures a significant degree of freedom.

7. The open view is incoherent

Response: Some argue that it is logically impossible for God to guarantee aspects of the future without controlling everything about the future. This objection has been raised by Calvinists against Arminians for centuries and is no more forceful against the open view than it is against classical Arminianism. Everything in life, from our personal experience down to the quantum particles, points to the truth that predictable stability does not rule out an element of unpredictability.

8. The Scripture used to support the open view may be interpreted as phenomenological anthropomorphisms

Response: This asserts that these passages are a human way of speaking about things as they seem to be, not as they really are. However, nothing in the context of these Scriptures, covering a variety of audiences, authors, and contexts, suggests they are “phenomenological” (how things appear) or “anthropomorphic.” There is no justification for reading into these descriptions of God’s actions anything other than their most natural explanation. How can reports about what God was thinking be phenomenological (Jer. 3:6–7; 19–20; Exod. 13:17)? And if they are anthropomorphic, it’s not clear what they mean. For example, what do all the passages that explicitly say God changed his mind mean if God doesn’t, in fact, change his mind?

9. The open view demeans God’s sovereignty

Response: On the contrary, it exalts God’s sovereignty. After describing impending judgment, the prophet Joel states, “‘Yet even now,’ says the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and mourning: and rend your hearts and not your garment.’ Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil. Who knows whether he will not turn and repent, and leave a blessing behind him…” (Joel 2:12–14).

“Most evangelical Christians take if for granted that God knows everything that is ever going to take place. They have been taught that the future is completely settled in God’s mind and has been so from all eternity. This view is sometimes called the “classical view of divine foreknowledge.” Though it has always been the majority view in the church, it is the view I will be arguing against throughout this work.

If you think about the matter deeply, the classical view raises a number of thorny questions. For example, if every choice you’ve ever made was certain an eternity before you made it, were you really free when you made each choice? Could you have chosen differently if it was eternally certain you’d make the choice you did?

Even more troubling, if God foreknew that Adolf Hitler would send six million Jews to their death, why did he go ahead and create a man like that? If I unleash a mad dog I am certain will bite you, am I not responsible for my dog’s behavior? If so, how is God not responsible for the behavior of evil people he “unleashes” on the world – if, in fact, he is absolutely certain of what they will do once “unleashed”?

Moreover, if God is eternally certain that various individuals will end up being eternally damned, why does he go ahead and create them? If hell is worse than never being born, as Jesus suggests (Matt. 26:24), wouldn’t an all-loving God refrain from creating people he is certain will end up there> If God truly doesn’t what “any to perish” (2 Peter 3:9), why does he create people he is certain will do just that?

Indeed, if the destiny of every person who will eventually end up in hell is settled before they are born, why does God continue to try to get them to accept his grace throughout their lives – as though there were genuine hope for them? WOuld you spend a lifetime trying to accomplish something you were certain could never be accomplished?

The most serious questions about the classical view of foreknowledge, however, relate to the Bible. If the future is indeed exhaustively settled in God’s mind, as the classical view holds, why does the Bible repeatedly describe God changing his mind? Why does the Bible say that God frequently alters his plans, cancels prophecies in the light of changing circumstances, and speaks about the future as a “maybe,” a “perhaps,” or a “possibility”? Why does it describe God as expressing uncertainty about the future, being disappointed in the way things turned out, and even occasionally regretting the outcome of his own decisions? If the Bible is always true – and I, for one, assume that it is – how can we reconcile this way of talking about God (to be discussed in chapter 2) with the notion that the future is exhaustively settled in his mind?

Questions such as these led me to a biblical and theological investigation of Gods foreknowledge seventeen years ago. To my surprise, I came to the conclusion that something was amiss in the classical understanding of divine foreknowledge. I came to believe that the future was, indeed, partly determined and foreknown by God, but also partly open and known by God as such. In short, I embraced what has come to be labeled the “open view” of God.

In this book I want to share with the reader the biblical evidence that led me to this conclusion as well as some of the theological and practical considerations that I believe support it.”

– Greg Boyd in, ‘God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God

Last Saturday night Shelley (Greg’s wife) and I were involved in a rather serious four car crash on a local highway. One person was hospitalized, and I’m being treated for neck pain and an on-going dull headache. But thankfully, no one was critically injured. In any event, the crash inspired several folks to e-mail or tweet questions regarding how I process this accident from an open theistic perspective, so I thought I’d address one of these questions in this blog.

Several people wondered if I believed that Shelley and I could have perhaps avoided this crash had we prayed for protection (if we didn’t) or if we and others might have been more seriously injured had we not prayed for protection (if we did). Great question! I absolutely believe praying for protection (and everything else) makes a significant difference in what comes to pass. In my view, God set up things up in the beginning such that his influence in the world is increased when his human partners align their will with his will through prayer. He wants to bring about his will “on earth as it is in heaven” through us. He’s looking for a bride who will reign with him on the throne (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev 20:6). So he’s given us tremendous authority to influence what comes to pass through prayer (as well as through other activities).

But I don’t believe prayer is magic. In my view, praying for protection doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get into a crash, or even that you won’t be killed. And the reason is not because it may be God’s will for you to get into a crash and get killed. The reason is rather that there are a multitude of variables extending back to the beginning of time that affect what comes to pass, including the free choices of human and spirit agents (e.g. angels, demons). I do not believe these other variables are completely overridden because someone prays.

One of the reasons many have trouble with this idea is that we tend to think of power in terms of coercion rather than influence. Hence, many assume that if prayer makes any difference it must make all the difference and thus guarantee a particular outcome. This is why most Christians assume that God’s will is the only variable affecting whether a person’s prayer is “answered” (that is, they “get” what they prayed for). If God wills what you pray for, in this view, he makes it happen: if he doesn’t will it, he won’t. By contrast, in the open view prayer increases God’s influence in the world (assuming that what you pray for is not contrary to God’s will), but it doesn’t cause God to coercively override all other variables.

It’s my conviction, therefore, that Shelley and I might have been more seriously injured were it not for the fact that we are continually covered in prayer (thank you prayer warriors!), but also that we might have been less seriously injured had we ourselves prayed for protection before our trip (which, I confess, we did not do). Things really hang in the balance on whether or not we pray! “If my people…will humble themselves and pray…then I will hear from heaven…and will heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14).

If you ask me, it’s the classical view, not the open view, that has trouble making sense of prayer. For example, if it’s the case that God’s will is the only variable affecting what comes to pass, then it’s hard to see how prayer can make any real difference. If it was God’s will that we get into a crash, our praying otherwise couldn’t change this. And if it was not God’s will for us to get into our crash, then our prayers for protection are redundant. Prayer can make a difference only if things genuinely hang in the balance.

Along the same lines, according to classical theism all the facts about the future are exhaustively settled from all eternity. Some classical theists hold that God eternally willed these facts to be settled the way they are (Calvinism) while others hold that God simply eternally knows these facts to be eternally settled the way they are. Either way, the future is exhaustively settled. If this is the case, however, one has to once again wonder what difference prayer can really make. If it was an eternally settled fact that Shelley and I would be involved in a car crash on November 6th, 2010, there’s simply no way it could have been avoided, whether by prayer or any other means. (By the way, my objection to this view is not rooted in an assumption that whatever is settled in the future must be causally determined, as Bill Craig repeatedly alleges in the podcast I discussed in my previous two posts. My objection is rather rooted in the conception of the future as exclusively a domain of exhaustively settled facts. The issue over how these facts came to be settled is problematic, to be sure, but it is irrelevant to this particular objection.)

If we instead think of the future as partly open and conceive of divine power in response to prayer along the lines of influence rather than coercion, these (and many other) problems are avoided. Prayer doesn’t magically override the multitude of variables that affect what comes to pass, but it is itself a powerful variable. We can take it on faith that prayer is always “powerful and effective” (Ja 5:16). In some situations, variables are such that the increased divine influence is able to bring about what we pray for, in others not. Yet, if what we pray for is in line with God’s character and will, we can trust that things would have been worse had we not prayed.

the very fact that God must engage in genuine conflict with opposing forces and rely on his wisdom to overcome them suggests to me that he can’t simply use his omnipotent power to prevent their evil activity. I will address the paradox of how there can be things an omnipotent God can’t do in a moment…

Given that Jesus is the one and only perfect revelation of God (e.g., Heb. 1:3), our understanding of God’s conflict with opposing forces should be based primarily on his ministry. Jesus spent his entire ministry among people who in one way or another were suffering. Yet he never once suggested that their suffering was “for a reason.” Never do we find any suggestion that people’s afflictions somehow fit into a grand divine plan. To the contrary, Jesus and the Gospel authors uniformly diagnosed people’s afflictions as being due to the work of Satan and/or demons (e.g., Mark 9:25 and Luke 11:14 and 13:11–16).[9] And far from suggesting that people’s afflictions had anything to do with God’s will, Jesus manifested the will of God by freeing people from their demonically influenced infirmities.

Peter would later summarize Jesus’s entire ministry to Cornelius by proclaiming that Jesus “went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil” (Acts 10:38). In doing this, we are elsewhere taught that Jesus destroyed “the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8) and broke “the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). Such teachings should lead us to conclude that if infirmities happen for a reason, the reason is found in Satan and other forces of evil that oppose God. The only reason for afflictions that has anything to do with God is for people to be set free from them and for the forces that oppress people to be overthrown. …

Beginning with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and continuing throughout the biblical narrative, we find God giving people the choice to follow him or not. And when they choose to rebel, it is almost uniformly understood to reflect their own purposes and to stand in opposition to God’s purposes.[11] So, for example, Luke notes that “the Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves” by rejecting John’s baptism (Luke 7:30, emphasis added). And in Isaiah, Yahweh rebukes his “obstinate children” who “carry out plans that are not mine, forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit, heaping sin upon sin” (Isa. 30:1, emphasis added). Far from being allowed for a specific sovereign purpose, we see that sin is sin precisely because it conflicts with God’s sovereign purpose. In this light, I would again submit that if someone wants to look for a reason behind Zosia’s torture, they should look for it in the guards who tortured her, not in God. …

To continue reading this post by Boyd, click here.

More about ‘open theism

Click here for more about open theism by Thomas Belt.




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