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Making God Think like the Devil

August 12, 2009

Open theism is a biblically bankrupt way of thinking about the way God thinks. It is a presuppositionally flawed system of interpretation that claims a more pastoral, helpful, and biblical presentation of what God knows and when He knows it. If saying it this way causes open theism to feel remote or theoretical in terms of its every-day implications, it may be helpful to remember that our view of God’s knowledge of the future drastically impacts our faith – which requires a trust in the long-range wisdom of God’s word, our hope – which rests on a confidence in the things He can see but we cannot, our prayer life – which invites His previously, perfectly formed will to be done in our situation, and our ability to suffer well – which includes rejoicing in the eternally good purpose He is working in us through this particular trial. So it is not sterile academia that is at stake here but the blood and sweat of Christian discipleship!

The primary issue in this debate is God’s knowledge of future events. All orthodox, evangelical thinkers agree that God is eternal and omnipresent. Owing to the fact that He has always been everywhere at once, God operates with an exhaustive knowledge of all past and present events. Turning to the future, however, the paths diverge. Traditional theists hold that the future is “closed” to God, meaning that He has an exhaustive foreknowledge of everything that will be done in the future. It is important to note a significant difference in the traditional-theist camp between Arminians who understand God’s foreknowledge as passive and Calvinists who understand it as causative. But while these two camps differ in how God relates to what He knows will surely happen in the future, they are united in the assertion that He does in fact know it all. Open theists argue, on the other hand, that the future is “open” to God since future actions of free creatures do not in fact exist, and therefore cannot be known. So the Creator learns and grows and adjusts His plan(s) right along with His creatures as make their decisions. And when they surprise Him by acting out of alignment with His best guess about their future acts, He may regret, or even repent of, decisions He has made in the past.

But to speak of “guesses” does not mean God draws His options out of a hat. While open theists re-make God in our image where knowledge of the future is concerned, the fact that He has exhaustive and perfect knowledge of the past and the present makes Him a fairly accurate Guesser in their scheme. Being able to accurately and fully recall the history of humanity, as well as the pattern of your past decisions helps God predict what you may do next. Likewise, His perfect understanding of the laws He built into the world helps Him see things coming. For example, His knowledge of the dynamics of certain storm systems gets Him prepared for the tornado that hits your house, and His understanding of geometry and gravity lets Him accurately predict the pot of boiling water that spills on your four year old when she reaches up to stir the spaghetti. But He doesn’t actually learn about it until it happens, much less does He cause it or have a purpose in it. This is god of the open theists.

Here is the aspect of this scenario that felt new to me this week. Just when all this starts to seem like a good amount to give God to work with, it can be startling to realize that almost this much could be said of the devil. Granted, the devil had a beginning and so has not had as long as the Father to compile a database of our decision-making patterns. Nor is he omnipresent, which means he has to spend a little more energy doing research into this or that particular person. But if God’s knowledge of our future is limited to making predictions based on past information, it seems the devil has been around long enough and is able to employ a wide-enough network to stand as a viable competitor with the Father in the future-predicting business. The devil runs almost neck and neck with the God of open theism when it comes to understanding and impacting the future of any one person. Add to this the realization that open theists deny any redemptive purpose of God in our suffering, and the devil may actually edge ahead a bit, since he does indeed have a (diabolical) purpose in the trials we encounter!

This may be a bit of a fantastic or imprecise way to put it – open theism makes the God of heaven think like the devil. But if it shocks us into taking another look at the testimony of Scripture where God’s relationship with our future is concerned, it is probably worth it.

For further thinking and reading: many evangelical scholars (most notably and most thoroughly Bruce Ware with his excellent God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism; and his shorter, more popular work Their God is Too Small: Open Theism and the Undermining of Confidence in God) have exposed openness theology as profoundly unhelpful and pervasively unbiblical. Take and read and rejoice in the sovereign God of history (past, present, and future)!

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2 Comments
  1. Sarah Van Dyke permalink

    Nathan,
    Thanks for this post. I’m not extremely familiar with “open theism” and so this post was very enlightening on many different levels. Thanks for your faithfulness to encourage and educate the body!

  2. Mark permalink

    Nathan,
    So glad you have continued to address this very important issue! I have been encouraged to hear that in the more conservative theological circles like the Evangelical Theological Society, they have, by-and-large, rejected the idea of open theism. But that doesn’t change the fact that in the wake of its re-immergence into common theological thought, many popular writers, thinkers and preachers have been influenced by it, and that influence then streams straight into our churches, classrooms and doctrine, even without us knowing it. As Christians I believe we must counter-act such thought on as many fronts as we can. Thanks for being faithful in “flooding” cyberspace with God-honoring doctrine and exhortation!

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