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The year 2000 saw the publication of a book of dialogue between free-will theists and process theologians. The title of the book, apparently given with no sense of irony, was Searching for an Adequate God. One’s first reaction might be something along the lines of “If you ever find this adequate god, don’t tell me.” An “adequate” god. Sheesh.

Despite its title, however, the book contains a profound lesson on the nature of theological consistency. One of the features of “dynamic new doctrines” such as open theism is that proponents pride themselves on being far more consistent with the logic of certain assumptions that they share in common with some of the orthodox they have left behind. In this instance, classical theists who are theologically Arminian believe in the exhaustive foreknowledge of God. But this is inconsistent with a certain understanding of free will, which the Arminians hold to anyway. Open theists like to pretend that they are courageously following the truthwherever it leads, following the argument out to the end of the line. This is what gives them the exhilarating sense that they throwing off the shackles of blind tradition and striking out on the open road.

And it is quite true that at this point they are more consistent than Arminians. God’s exhaustive foreknowledge of the future does necessitate that the foreknown particular future will come to pass. And if necessity is inconsistent with freedom (which, in fairness, the Reformed deny), then it follows that Arminians are less consistent at this point than are open theists. However, it is important to note that this is not the whole story. Arminians are far more consistent with the teaching of Scripture as a whole because there is more in the Bible than just one issue. As one who does not share the Arminian position at all, I still want to say that their system represents the entire revelation of Scripture far more accurately than open theism does, and both positions want to maintain they are based on Scripture. So who is being more inconsistent?

But the point is not the comparative consistency or inconsistency of the orthodox who were left behind by the theological “pioneers.” The point of this short article is that the pioneering folks are not nearly as consistent as they pretend to be in the area of their vaunted consistency, and that they do not have the courage of their convictions at all. They are like the policemen in Pirates of Penzance. “We go, we go, we go!” Yes, but you don’t go!

We know that they have not embraced anything like a consistent position on these issues because every basic argument they employ against the positions they have left (with regard to foreknowledge and moral choice) can be leveled with as much force against the positions they currently hold. In other words, they are like a 3-year-old who runs away from home and makes it halfway across the neighbor’s driveway.

According to open theism, moral freedom is impossible if moral choices are either foreordained or foreknown. Further, moral freedom is impossible if there is no true choice between good and evil. Hence God created the world in such a way that true good and horrendous evil can be chosen by its inhabitants. Such a world is here because God decided to put it here—but He does not know the future of this world.

In the historic Reformed view, God freely and unalterably ordains whatsoever comes to pass. He does this in such a way that He is not the author of sin, and He does no violence to the liberty or contingency of secondary causes, but rather establishes them. In other words, the Reformed step up to the microphone and speak plainly into it. God ordains and governs everything, including the free choices of creatures, and He superintends evil for His righteous and holy purposes. He knows everything that will come to pass because He knows exactly what He has determined to do.

The Arminian is faithful to Scripture when it speaks about the foreknowledge of God, but is less than consistent in affirming that in some fashion this foreknown future is somehow “Godless.” In other words, if God looks down the corridors of time and sees what is happening there in the future, is it happening with Him or not? If God sees what He Himself has decreed, then this is the Reformed view. But if God sees Godless or “without God” circumstances, and, on the basis of His foreknowledge, puts His seal of approval on all events after the fact, then all this amounts to is a cosmic “Me, too!” And moreover, whether the future is Godless or not, if before the foundation of the world God saw what Smith will do this next Friday, then how is Smith free to do anything else? God’s exhaustive foreknowledge cannot be falsified, and so this must mean that Smith is not truly free.

And so the openness theorists, in order to keep free will (which they define sharply as a genuine power of contrary choice) simply deny that God knows the future choices of free creatures. Simple, right? Consistent, right? Well, no. This can be made most clear if we talk about the foreknowledge (or lack of it) of moral choices.

As Searching for an Adequate God makes clear, one of the central doctrinal issues that divides open theism from process theology is the continued affirmation of creatio ex nihilo on the part of the open theism advocates. But this adherence means that all the objections that they level against classical theists, whether Reformed or Arminian, can be made against their position by me process theologians.

As one process writer put it: “They [open theism writers] acknowledge, however, that they still have a problem: Admittedly, some difficulty still remains so long as we [unlike process theologians] hold that God had the power to intervene to prevent these evils but did not do so” (Cobb and Pinnock, Searching for an Adequate God). Some difficulty? All the difficulties remain, in full force. In fact, the same difficulties are actually worsened, because the open theism camp has acknowledged that God needs to have love (defined by openness) as His primary attribute. The process criticism is not slow on the uptake: “This way of supporting their interpretation of the Christian good news … creates many problems. The most obvious is the problem of evil, which throws into question the [primary] doctrine of God’s perfect goodness and love.”

Consider it this way. For the process theologian, God is not responsible for the evil in the world because He did not put the world here. He struggles against the evil, with greater or lesser degrees of success, but He is struggling against something outside of Him which in no way originated with Him. This at least gets God off the hook with regard to the problem of evil—He didn’t do it. In fact, it gets everything and everybody off the hook as well—what basis do we now have for saying that anything is evil?

But the open theists still want to maintain that God put the world here. Whatever the world contains, and whatever free agents do within that world, it is because God decided to create the world in which it all would happen. To have God close His eyes concerning the consequences of His actions in no way resolves anything. To remove God’s foreknowledge from His act of Creation only makes Him a reckless maniac. In this fallen world, people die. If, because of this, impudent human beings can charge the Reformed God with premeditated murder (as Paul would say, “I am out of my mind to talk like this”), then how does it solve any problems to take away God’s foreknowledge at the time of Creation? God still brought all this wretchedness to pass (by choosing to create), but He did so with His eyes shut. This just means we have to book Him for negligent manslaughter.

Neither will it do to reply that God created this world from nothing so that mankind could have free will. Not exactly. Given what we read in the papers, He created the world from nothing in the way He did so that murderers could have free will, and so their victims would not.

I believe that the open theism position is a serious heresy that should be rejected in its own right. But I feel constrained to bring another charge against its adherents. So long as they continue to affirm that God created the world from nothing, they remain nothing less than embarrassed Calvinists. They are very brave, and they have run away from home, but they are still in the neighbor’s driveway.

Old and Disapproved

Almighty Mood Swings?

Keep Reading Made in Man's Image: Open Theism

From the February 2003 Issue
Feb 2003 Issue