The Open Theism View of God’s  Foreknowledge and Control

The Open Theism View of God’s

Foreknowledge and Control

     Of the several views of God’s foreknowledge, His pre-determination, and His control or sovereignty over everything, the Open Theism View seems to give the best basis for understanding how these aspects of God’s character work. This view is variously known as:

  • The Openness View of Creation,
  • The Relational view of God, or
  • The Dynamic Omniscience View of God’s Foreknowledge.

The Brief History of the View That God Has

Dynamic Foreknowledge

     In contrast to the classical views of Calvinism, Arminianism, and Molinism, little is known of the distant history of the Openness view. However, it is known that it was held by a fifth century Christian theologian named Calcidius, as well as the medieval Jewish theologians (e.g. Ibn Ezra, 12th century and Gersonides, 14th century), Faustus Socinus (16th century), and a number of 18th century Methodist theologians, including Adam Clarke.

     In the 19th century the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement i.e. the Churches of Christ, Christian Churches, and Disciples of Christ generally followed this understanding. Also, many Methodists, some evangelicals, and a few Catholics took this view.

     In the 20th century this expanded to include many evangelicals, many Pentecostals, as well as some notable theologians e.g., Jürgen Moltman, Paul Fides, Michael Welker and the philosophical theologian, Keith Ward.

     In the 1980s and 90s Clark Pinnock (deceased in 2010) did much to bring this understanding back into the limelight, and his writings are certainly still very influential. This leaves the main living proponents of this view today as being: John Sanders, Richard Rice, William Hasker, David Basinger, Terrence Freitham, and Gregory Boyd. There are many other professors who hold the same view, as well as others who contribute to aspects of this understanding such as: Nicholas Wolterstorff and Robert Kane.

A Brief Explanation of Open Theism

     This view of the future, and therefore God’s foreknowledge of reality, is composed:

  • Partly of settled events, either because God has predetermined those events which He will make happen or because there are present causes which render a future event to be certain to happen, and

< > Partly of open events, either because God has not predetermined them or because there are no present causes which render a future event to be certain—they are the infinite range of possibilities and probabilities. —they do not yet exist. However, God knows them as the infinite range of possibilities which, with time, narrows down to probabilities. So, they are part of the reality of God’s foreknowledge. This can be illustrated, although rather inadequately, by the concept of a series of short stories, whereby the reader is invited to choose from a range of different endings according to his or her choice i.e., it is open-ended. We may also explain this by showing that God’s sovereign will operates according to both a purposive aspect and a permissive aspect. This makes the future partly closed and partly open.

The Purposive Aspect of God’s Will Is

Foreknown and Predetermined

    The purposive aspect of God’s sovereign will has led to Messiah’s mission to pay for sin and to establish the Christian community. It has also led to Jesus’ continuing mission as High Priest in heaven, and will lead to the next stage of his work at his return to gather his “body” who are “incorporated in Christ,” and so to establish the Kingdom of God for the blessing of all the nations. So, God is described as: “...him who works all things according to the counsel of his will…” (Eph. 1:11) and that “...all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28).

The Permissive Aspect of God’s Will Is

Not Foreknown and Not Predetermined

    This permissive aspect of God’s will, encompasses all that is not the purposive aspect of God’s will so that humans may exercise their free will within the physical parameters of life. Furthermore, it is God’s sovereign will to let most events run their course. Therefore, most personal circumstances and most world events, including natural disasters are not controlled by Him. There is a very large group of statements in the Scriptures about events which are evidently open-ended.

The Interweaving of the Purposive and the Permissive

Aspects of God’s Will

     Because God’s purpose involves His foreknowing and predetermine-ing of a body of people who are “incorporated in Christ” such predeter-mination is christocentric. It does not require that particular individuals have been predestined for salvation as Christians, but that individuals should remain in the predestined body of Christ. This can be illustrated by imagining a train with its route, its various scheduled stops, and its final destination. Such a train may represent the body of Christ which God foreknows and has predestined to enter the kingdom—the final destination. The passengers represent the individuals who hear the call to board the train (by hearing the Gospel). Some choose not to board it—[“many are called but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14)]. Some board it (by believing) but then choose, with the use of their free will, to get off at a stop earlier than the final destination. These, therefore, in using their free will faithlessly, fail to inherit the kingdom at the final destination. However, others choose to stay on the train, i.e., remain “incorporated in Christ” right to the final destination to inherit the Kingdom. So, God’s superlative assessment of mankind in general allows Him to foreknow that some individuals will fail to respond to the call, but that others will respond to His call, yet fail to stay to the final destination. Additionally, God foreknows that yet others, who have ‘boarded,’ will remain ‘on the train’ to the final destination. Yet God does not know which particular individuals any of these will be until they ‘respond to the call to board the train.’ This is all of immense encouragement to those who, by faithfulness, remain “incorporated in Christ.” It gives them a full assurance of their inheriting the Kingdom despite their personal failings. However, regarding God’s foreknowledge, the Calvinist, Arminian, and Molinist views appeal to anthropomorphisms to explain all of the relevant biblical statements; but is this the correct approach?

Why the Relevant Biblical Statements Should

NOT Be Interpreted as Anthropomorphic

     Anthropomorphisms are figures of speech used in the Bible to describe God in human terms. It is God’s metaphorical language about Himself to accommodate human limited capacity to understand things about Him. For example, God’s arm refers to His power.

     Anthropopathisms are figures of speech to attribute human emotions or spiritual qualities to God. So, when some commentators say that one of God’s emotions is anthropomorphic, they really mean that it is anthropopathic. However, the use of these figures of speech in Scripture concerning God, only logically fits if they are limited to His physical attributes (anthropomorphic) which we cannot comprehend, rather than to those about His ethical or spiritual qualities (anthropopathic) which we can comprehend. So, these should be taken as literal (technically as conceptual metaphors, e.g., “her criticisms hit the target”) for the following reasons:

< > RELEVANCE. There is nothing in all the open-ended passages referring to God’s future knowledge that suggests that these passages are anthropomorphic. CONSITENCY. If a literal approach is taken to the Scriptural statements about events which are closed off i.e. that God has predestined and has therefore settled these, then, for consistency we should also take as literal those statements about events which are open-ended and so are of an undetermined future i.e., a future of possibilities. REFLECTING REALTY. As with all figures of speech, anthropomorph- isms must reflect a reality at some level e.g. “God’s right hand” as meaning his power. But to say that the Scriptures describing God’s changing of His mind is only anthropomorphic would reflect no reality at all. Otherwise, we may as well say that the description of God as love doesn’t really mean that at all. TRUTH ABOUT GOD’S CHARACTER. To say that such passages are anthropomorphic simply undermines the integrity of Scripture e.g., to say that God changed His mind when, in fact, He didn’t is completely misleading. In fact, it would not be communicating anything truthful about Him. So, God is not representing His character to us only as He seems to be to us so that, for example, it only seems as though he changes His mind. He represents His character, His ethical or spiritual qualities as He actually is. So, the relevant passages referring to God in these contexts of undetermined features are not an accommodation to our finite human thinking, i.e., anthropomorphic descriptions in this regard, and it is clearly inappropriate to apply this figure of speech to the relevant statements about God’s foreknowledge?  Further Details of the Open Theism View

< > God decided to create humans as capable of experiencing His love and freely responding to it with love toward Him. Therefore, He has granted us genuine free will, which is necessary for a truly personal relationship of love to develop. As sovereign, God has decided to make some of his actions contingent upon human requests and actions, so that He works with responsive humans in His plans. God can genuinely be influenced by what humans do and respond accordingly, so that there is genuine interaction—it is a dynamic relationship. Because the Scriptures show that God changes in some respects, this implies that God acts in a temporal way. He works with us so that events are sequential, rather than His being timelessly eternal. In wisdom, God has chosen to exercise general rather than overly detailed preparation for future events. This means that humans are not put into straight-jackets, but rather it means that God can be creative and resourceful in working with humans i.e., flexible in His strategies. God’s nature doesn’t change, but He may adjust His plans, so that He is endlessly resourceful in working towards the fulfillment of his ultimate purpose. This means that His plan is not a detailed script or blueprint, but a broad purpose that allows for a variety of options regarding precisely how these purposes will be fulfilled. As the omniscient God He knows all that there is to know about the universe—He knows the past and the present with exhaustive definite knowledge. However, concerning the future He knows it as partly definite (closed) and partly indefinite (open). This means that He is dynamically omniscient. Indeed, God could have known every event of the future had He decided to create a fully determined universe. However, biblically speaking He decided to create beings with genuine free will, which implies that He chose to create a universe in which not all of the future is knowable, even for Himself, although He knows all possibilities. In the open or indefinite aspect of the future, God is not caught off-guard. He has foresight and anticipates what we will do or may do because he already knows all possibilities. The Open Theism View Gives the

Better Understanding of God’s Foreknowledge

     The several factors which indicate that the Open Theism View explains the biblical data best, and therefore is most likely to be the correct one, are: 




     The statements of settled predestined things and the open-ended undetermined future statements should be consistently understood as literal, in contrast to the Calvinist or Arminian or Molinist views which make an inconsistent application to the various statements in reference to God’s foreknowledge, i.e., literalness to some of the statements, but anthropomorphism to other statements when there is no logical reason to do so.


     Almost all promoters of the Calvinist view deny that humans actually have genuine free will; and although the Arminian and Molinist views both claim to confirm genuine human free will, this cannot actually be the case for the reasons given earlier. In contrast to these views the Open Theism View unassailably presents God as granting genuine human free will.


     The Calvinist View promotes a God who harshly predestines the majority of mankind to either eternal destruction or eternal torment, (depending on one’s viewpoint). He is also shown to be not secure enough to allow others to have free will.

     Yet, the Arminian and Molinist views promote a God who is not able to change whatever evil things will happen, and so appears weak. However, the Scriptures give us a quite different and positive picture of God’s character if we accept the Open Theism view of His foreknowledge. This view of how God’s foreknowledge works demonstrates God’s supreme intelligence, because it requires that He use His infinite problem-solving intelligence in analysing all of the combinations of all of the possibilities that there are. Clearly, He has always known what all the possibilities are! This requires much greater intelligence than a God who simply foreknows or predestines the entire future.

     The Open Theism View also presents God as able to respond to changing circumstances by using His infinite intelligence to accomplish His purposes as His creation moves through time, rather than having everything foreknown and settled prior to creation. This also takes a greater amount of intelligence than would be the case in the Calvinist and Arminian views.

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