Sunday, October 11, 2009

Explanation of Open Theism

A few friends and I had a discussion on open theism today. I wrote in my Facebook status that I was considering open theism again. So Lydia asked me today what open theism was. Pretty soon we had Amy, Joe, Mr. Hoffman, and a whole number of other people in the discussion.

I explained what open theism is but I feel like I didn't do a very good job. So here are the reasons open theism works, and why I don't consider it heretical or consider it to take away God's sovereignty.

Note that I define sovereignty like most people define sovereignty: being in control. Being in control, however, is worlds different from being controlling. When you are babysitting little kids, you are in control, but you are not controlling every move those little kids make. Those who by "sovereignty" mean "exhaustive determinism" really are just redefining the term so that any God who is not exhaustively deterministic is not soverign.

But first of all, I should explain what open theists believe. Open theists essentially hold that possibilities are real. In other words, God knows everything perfectly, and that includes possibilities. As in, at this point in time, a man is making a decision. God knows the man perfectly, and God knows the outcome of the decision perfectly, but knows that there is truly a possibility the man might do either one or the other.

In essence, that means the universe is like a giant Choose Your Own Adventure book. God knows all the possible choices any person could make at any point in time, and He is prepared to respond to every human decision with a counter-move that He sees fit.

"Being infinitely intelligent, God does not have to divide up his intelligence to cover various possibilities the way we do. He can anticipate from all eternity each and every one of any number of possibilities as though it was the only possibility – indeed, as though it absolutely had to occur! All the worry that the God of open theism can only hope for the best and thus can’t be trusted amounts to nothing more than an anthropomorphic denial of God’s infinite intelligence. Not only this, but unlike us, God controls the parameters of all possibilities and perfectly knows all the variables that affect all these possibilities."
-Greg Boyd

Basically, the idea is that God is like a master chess player. He perfectly knows every single move his opponent could possibly make, even though the actual sequence of moves the opponent does make is open to possibility.

As Greg Boyd explains it, if an angel were to come running up to the open theist's God and say, "hey! Guess what, God! I found a blueprint of every single move every single human being is ever going to make over the course of all history!"

God would reply, "why on earth would I need that?! I already know every possible move any human being could ever make! And I have a perfect plan of retaliation for any move they do make!"

God is the infinitely wise chess master. On top of this, God created the rules that govern the chess game we are playing. He may therefore announce a checkmate ages before we are capable of ever imagining how such a prediction could be ensured. Because we with our limited ability to anticipate possibilities cannot see how he makes such a prediction, we might be inclined to suspect that he must somehow foreknow or must have predetermined our future moves in order to make it come to pass. Indeed, we may even suspect that those who believe God doesn’t foreknow or didn’t predetermine our future moves can’t really believe he made this prediction inerrantly! If believing the infinitely wise chess master makes predictions inerrantly is a requirement for belonging to our chess club, we may even lobby to have them removed! But, I submit, all such suspicions are rooted in an anthropomorphic conception of deity. We who have finite intelligence would need to foreknow or predetermine everything about a game of chess to ensure a checkmate this far in advance, but an infinitely intelligent chess player would not.
-Greg Boyd

This is how Boyd and other open theists believe that God can predict the future. He can see everything that is going on and make all that information add up to what is going to happen. A really good economist with an infinitely small fraction of God's intelligence can predict stock market crashes, etc. How much more could God, with completely infinite knowledge of every intricate detail of everything that is going on, predict the future based on what is happening in the present?

And why on earth does Boyd support the open theist view instead of the simple foreknowledge (Arminian) or exhaustive determinist (Calvinist) view? He thinks it is more biblical.

Now, the sheer fact that openness theologians believe that “God changes his mind” can hardly count against their affirmation of the inerrancy of Scripture, for Scripture explicitly teaches this very thing! God inerrantly states he’s intending to do one thing and then, in response to changing circumstances, decides to follow a different course of action. There are 39 times where this is explicitly stated in Scripture, and several hundred times where, on my reckoning, it is implied. So explicit and prominent is this scriptural motif that one might have thought that charges of denying inerrancy would have been raised against Roger Nicole and others who deny this!
-Greg Boyd

In this quote I don't quite think Boyd makes something clear: open theists do not necessarily believe that God changes. They do, however, believe that He changes His plans, or changes His mind, about what He is going to do. But it is not Him who changed - it is people who changed, thus, He changed His plan to reflect that change.

The fact of the matter is that nobody takes everything in the Bible literally and no one takes everything in the Bible to be metaphorical (anthropomorphic or otherwise). We all have to determine what genre a passage fits into – and thus, whether it’s intended to be more literal, or more anthropomorphic. The only claim of Open Theists is that there’s no good exegetical or philosophical reason to take passages that speak about God changing his mind as anthropomorphic. The only reason traditionalists interpret them this way is because admitting God changes his mind conflicts with the traditional view that God exhaustively knows the future from all eternity as a domain of settled facts. If you grant that God really changes his mind, you must acknowledge that the future is partly open.

I would go further and argue that interpreting these passages as anthropomorphic renders their meaning unclear. If God doesn’t actually change his mind, then what do the passages that explicitly declare that he does change his mind mean? Saying they’re anthropomorphic doesn’t help us, for anthropomorphic expressions, if they’re true, must still communicate something accurate about God. Saying God has “a strong arm,” for example, communicates that God is strong – even though he doesn’t literally have arms. But what does it mean to say “God changes his mind” if in fact God doesn’t change his mind? This is simply inaccurate.
-Greg Boyd

So that is why I am considering open theism, and why I do not consider it a heretical system or one that shortchanges God's sovereignty. I doubt we'll ever be able to entirely figure out how God works, but I think we can certainly try to aim for a theology that is closer to what God has revealed in scripture. The only question is, who's theology is closest?

By the way, I still have some reservations against open theism, which I explain in my letter to Greg Boyd. But I don't entirely discount the open theist system.

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