I’m going to summarise a helpful review of open theism given by D.A. Carson in the following lecture:-
1. Definitions and key people
Leading figures in this movement include Clark Pinnock, Greg Boyd, and John Sanders.
According to Sanders, there are no-risk and risk views of divine providence. The no-risk (or classical) view is that God ordains everything. But this would mean that God ordains evil, including suffering and death. Open theism takes a ‘risk’ view of providence.
For open theists, what is ‘open’ is not God, but the future.
Divine omniscience is not denied, but re-defined. Classical theism asserts that God know the past, present and future perfectly. According to open theism, the future is not yet there to be known. God may well ordain certain things to happen in the future, but he does not ordain all things.
In contrast to Arminians, who believe that God knows the future exhaustively, and Calvinists, who agree that God knows the future exhaustively but add that knowledge is determinative, open theists propose a third option, God knows and determines the future only in part. But there are many things in the future that depend on the free choice of moral sentient beings. Such things God cannot know, for they are unknowable.
2. Open theists’ response to passages appealed to by classical theists.
Passages such as Isa 46 and Isa 48 where God expresses his intentions with regard to the future. Boyd says that such passages speak of God’s general intentions for the future in general, but not of specifics. But these passages explicitly contrast the true God with false gods, saying that the latter cannot predict the future; only God can do that.
Passages Gen 15:13-15; Jer 29:10 which speak of God’s foreknowledge of Israel’s future. Boyd accepts that God does determine some future events, but this does not mean that he determines all. But these passage must be linked to others that say that God can turn the hearts of kings, that God determines the throw of the dice, and so on.
Prophecies regarding individuals, esp. those which name future individuals, such as Josiah and Cyrus. Boyd says that God sets strict parameters around the parents’ options in choosing these names. But this raise extraordinary questions about the parents’ psychology, if the classical view is not taken.
Passages which speak of God’s foreknowledge of predictable behaviours, such as Peter and Judas. Open theists explain these in terms of divine insight into people’s character. But such predictions are often far to specific to be explainable in this way.
Passages such as Jer 1:5, Gal 1:15 which speak of divine foreknowledge of life plans. These need to be balanced against passages such as Lk 7:30.
Prophecies of the rise and fall of kingdoms, such as Dan 2:28-40. These are interpreted as the inevitable outcomes of certain behaviours and decisions.
Passages which speak of the fore-ordination of Christ and his atonement, Acts 2:23; 4:27f. Boyd says that the crucifixion itself was pre-determined, but the individuals who did it were neither foreknown not predestined to do so. But in Acts 4, the plan for Christ’s death is presented both in terms of human responsibility and guilt and divine fore-ordination. To lose one or the other is to do immense damage to the biblical doctrine of the cross. The two are mutually compatible.
3. Passages adduced in favour of open theism.
Passages which speak of God regretting how certain things turn out. Example: Gen 6:6. It appears from Gen 6:6; Ex 3:16-4:9 and 1 Sam 13;13 that future events may lead God to re-assess the wisdom or correctness of his own past actions.
Passages such as Num 14:11; Hos 8:5 in which God expresses uncertainty about the future. It is acknowledged that some of God’s questions may be rhetorical (Gen 3 – ‘Where are you?’). But questions about the future may express real ignorance.
Passages such as Isa 5 Jer 3:6ff; 18:5 in which God confronts the unexpected.
Passages in which God gets frustrated, Ex 4:10-15; 22:30f.
Passages in which God tests people’s character. See Gen 22; 2 Chron 22:31; Deut 8:2; Psa 95:10f.
Passages in which God speaks with uncertainty about what may or may not happen, ‘If it be possible…’ hastening the day of the Lord’s return, flexible potter.
Passages in which God is said to change his mind, Jer 18:8,10; Jonah 4:2. A passage such as 1 Sam 15:29 is taken to be a promise that on this occasion God will not change his mind. It is perhaps best to view these passages as teaching, not so much a change of mind on the part of God, as a relenting on the part of God. Moreover, we may see such passages in terms of God’s accommodating himself to our limited human understanding. Passage such as Rom 8:29f indicate the extraordinary coherence and purposefulness of God’s plans for humankind.
4. What open theists regard as strengths of their doctrine of God
A more believable and sympathetic theodicy. On the classical view, God is made responsible for evil. In open theism, God suffers with us. But such a God, suggests Carson, becomes ‘the God of slow reaction times’. For even if God could not foresee the death of the first Jew in the Holocaust, then surely he could have foreseen the death of the second, and the third, and the millionth? Clearly, such a theodicy becomes rather silly. Nor is it very comforting to say to parents who have lost a child in a car accident, “God is as shocked as you, he didn’t see it coming.” No: it is better to think of God as so vast that he does things that we cannot yet understand. And God’s love is not to be measured by whether we or our loved ones suffer or not, but by the fact that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.
Open theism is said to improve our understanding of prayer. Now, prayer really can change God.
It is claimed to generate a more honest, serious and sophisticated approach to assumed anthropomorphisms.
Although Carson did not have time to address all the issues raised by open theism, one of main platofrms of his response was to assert a compatibalist view of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. He expounded this with reference to key texts such as Gen 50, Isa 10, and Acts 4.