The Omniscience of God and the Heresy of Open-View Theism (Part V)
Introduction: Open View theists are extremely anxious to have their views accepted as simply being a valid evangelical option—a logical extension of Arminianism. But as we have already documented, Arminians have historically always affirmed omniscience in the classical sense.[i] Open View theists display a lot of consternation when they are linked with Socinianism (a 16th century group that likewise denied God’s unlimited foreknowledge[ii]) and especially when they are associated with Process thought.[iii] In fact, Open View theists spend about as much time trying to distance themselves from Process thought as they do trying to convince people that they are true evangelicals. Boyd writes, “Some evangelical authors have wrongly accused open theists of being close to process thought, but in truth the two views have little in common.”[iv] Despite this disclaimer, Open View theism, develops its understanding of God in ways that are strikingly similar with Process thought. In Process thought, as in Open View theism, God does not so much act in history as receive the impressions of history and incorporate them into his own life. He is a spiritual presence that resides in nature rather than a Sovereign Lord who intervenes in history. He moves the world by the magnetic power of his beauty and love rather than judges the world by his holiness; he is the final cause of the world rather than its formal cause. He empathizes with the world in its sorrow rather than judges the world in its sin.[v]
Open View theist Clark Pinnock says, “At great cost, God is leading the world forward to the place where it will reflect more perfectly the goodness that God himself enjoys. God does all this without having to do it, without being compelled by anything outside of himself. God’s bliss can not be increased, but it can express itself in the world. The creation is an occasion for the expression of God’s experience outside of God.”[vi] No process thinker could have said it better. Pinnock continues, “The open view of God stresses qualities of generosity, sensitivity and vulnerability more than power and control. It allows us to think of God as taking risks. Instead of locating God above and beyond history, it stresses God’s activity in history, responding to events as they happen, in order to accomplish his purposes. Rather than deciding the future all by himself, God made creatures with the capacity to surprise and delight him. Like a loving parent, he rejoices with them when they are happy and suffers with them when they are in pain. In and through everything, God is committed to their welfare and continually works to achieve what is best for them.”[vii]
In addition to denying God’s exhaustive foreknowledge, Open View theism, in agreement with Process thought, limits God’s power (Sovereignty) in order to establish a libertarian concept of absolute free will.[viii] Listen once again to the words of Clark Pinnock, “Though no power can stand against him, God wills the existence of creatures with the power of self-determination. This means that God is a superior power who does not cling to his right to dominate and control but who voluntarily gives creatures room to flourish. By inviting them to have dominion over the world (for example), God willingly surrenders power and makes possible a partnership with the creature.”[ix] This does not sound like the God we meet in the pages of Scripture. The God who speaks to us in Isaiah 46 and 48 is completely different.
I. Isaiah 46:8-11
Note the emphasis on the future actions of God. He repeatedly states what He will accomplish. Likewise, as Motyer points out in vv. 10 and 11, “Make known, say and summon are all participles (‘making know’ etc.), indicating continuity in history, with past, present and future respectively proceeding from the one, unique God. He dictates the purpose within history (end is ‘outcome’). Ancient times is better ‘beforehand’. He dictates what will happen (still to come is ‘things which have not been done’). He is sovereign; his purpose/’plan/counsel’ is inalterable and is the product not of whim but of his pleasurable will (all that I please). In a word, he is a God who is God.”[x] Open View theists say that all that this text tells us is that God is able to accomplish His purposes. Boyd, for example, writes, “He tells us that he is talking about his own will and his own plans. He declare that the future is settled to the extent that he is going to determine it, but nothing in the text requires that we believe that everything that will ever come to pass will do so according to his will and thus is settled ahead of time. Indeed, if everything came to pass according to his will, one wonders why God has to try to overcome the obstinacy of the Israelites with these assertions about particular future intentions.”[xi]
Boyd, however, is guilty of selective reading. The larger context of the passage makes clear that God’s exhaustive foreknowledge is involved. Verses 8 and 9 call on God’s people to “recall to mind” and “remember the former things long past.” Now, why would God ask them to remember former things when the main point is God’s accomplishment of future things? The answer is obvious. The confidence that God in fact will accomplish in the future what he here declares, is based on recalling the multitude of ways that God in the past has declared what will come to be and has then brought those thing to pass just as he had said. Note again the language, “declaring the end (i.e., the future) from the beginning (i.e., the past), and from ancient times (i.e., in the past things which have not been done i.e., in the future).” Confidence in the truthfulness of the declarations of future plans is rooted squarely in the accuracy with which God in the past declared precisely what would be and then accomplished it. The general nature of the “former things” of verse 9 and the “end from the beginning” of verse 10 confirm that God’s actions are rooted in God’s omniscience. He determines to accomplish all that He foreknows.
II. Isaiah 48:3-11
This text emphatically affirms that God possesses undeniable foreknowledge and that this knowledge is accurate down to the smallest detail. Alas, Boyd is not convinced and dismisses the force of the text by declaring, “The verse doesn’t support the view that the future is exhaustively settled in reality, and thus exhaustively settled in God’s mind.”[xii] The passage, on the contrary, teaches the exact opposite. Boyd admits that Isaiah 48:3-8 affirms God’s sovereignty and concedes that the passage does underscore that God does announce that He will do exactly what He has promised. But Boyd resorts to begging the question and to special pleading when he attempts to persuade his readers that this does not involve God’s knowledge of the future. He misses the whole point of the text. Israel is called upon to recognize the reasons for God’s judgments, and is forced to acknowledge that God has detailed knowledge of the future. Note the language in vv. 6-8 where God speaks of “new thing”, things “hidden” and “unknown” to Israel. God is here displaying His glory in His foreknowledge. “To diminish this reality or to qualify its truthfulness is to make a mockery of God and the stated purpose for his futuristic declarations.”[xiii]
Conclusion: Open View theism postulates a God made in the image of man. We don’t know the future and neither does God. This denial and redefinition of God’s attributes, if left unchecked, will have massive and catastrophic consequences not only in the theology of our Evangelical churches but also in the lives of Christians who come under its influence. The God of Open View theism is an idol, and like those idols in Isaiah 41:24, God declares they are detestable. The God of the Bible is all knowing and all-powerful and we must not diminish these attributes of God in the slightest. May the Lord deliver His church from the nonsense of Open View theism.
[i] It is well to note how Arminian thinkers from the past have underscored this. The renowned Wesleyan theologian William Pope declared, “No attribute of God occupies a more important critical place in theology than this of the Divine omniscience”. A Compendium of Christian Theology I (Phillips & Hunt, 1889), p. 316. Pope goes on to declare that those who deny God’s exhaustive foreknowledge of the future (like the Socinians and their contemporary theological cousins in Open-View theism) insult God, “Nothing can be imagined more derogatory to the perfection of God than that He should be made ignorant of contingent events. To Him they cannot be contingent: contingency is altogether a creaturely term. The notion is incompatible with any foreknowledge of human acts; for in a certain sense every one of them is contingent. Even shortsighted man can be all but certain of some contingent events lying in the immediate future. In God the memory of the past, the vision of the present, the prescience of the future, are alike perfect: the very fact of creation involves all this.” (p. 319). The justly famous Arminian theologian Richard Watson declared of God’s exhaustive omniscience, “No limits at all are to be set to this perfection.” Theological Institutes I (Carlton & Porter, 1850), p. 371. God’s unlimited omniscience, he adds, is clearly stated in Scripture. “The fact, that such a property exist in the Divine nature is, however, too clearly stated in Scripture to allow of any doubt in those who are disposed to submit to its authority; and it is not left to the-uncertainty of our speculations on the properties of spiritual natures, either to be confirmed or disproved. Equally clear is it that the moral actions of men are not necessitated, because human accountability is the main pillar of that moral government, whose principles, conduct, and ends, are stated so largely in Divine revelation. Whatever, therefore, becomes of human speculations, these points are sufficiently settled on an authority, which is abundantly sufficient. To the objection of: metaphysicians of different classes, against either of these principles, that such is not the sense of the Scriptures, because the fact “cannot be so, it involves a contradiction,” not the least importance is to be attached, when the plain, concurrent, and uniform sense of Scripture, interpreted as any other book would be interpreted, determines to the contrary. It surely does not follow that a thing cannot be, because men do not see, or pretend not to see, that it can be. This would lay the foundation of our faith in the strength or weakness of other men’s intellect. We are not, however, in many cases, left wholly to this answer, and it may be shown that the position, that certain prescience destroys contingency, is a mere sophism, and that this conclusion is connected with the premise, by a confused use of terms” (p. 379). The Methodist theologian Thomas Ralston declared, “Thus, we perceive clearly that God possesses the attribute of knowledge in the highest possible perfection. With him there can by nothing difficult, nothing mysterious; but all things are alike plain to his understanding and open to his view. This perfect knowledge is restricted to no particular part of his dominions, but extends alike to heaven, earth, and hell; yea, throughout the illimitable bounds of immensity. Nor may we suppose that it is applied only to things which, according to the judgment of finite capacities, are of consequence and importance. It extends to all things, great and small. The insect, as well as the angel, is perfectly known in all its mysterious organization and minute history. The infinite knowledge of God not only comprehends everything, great and small, whether animate or inanimate, material or immaterial, throughout the immensity of space, but also throughout the infinite periods of duration. All things, past and future, are just as clearly seen, and as fully comprehended, by the omniscient God, as the plainest events of the present.” Elements of Divinity (Cokesbury Press, 1924), p. 23. Finally, hear the opinion of Arminius himself, “Since God distinctly understands such a variety of things by one infinite intuition, omniscience or All-Wisdom is by a most deserved right attributed to Him. Yet this omniscience is not to be considered in God according to the mode of the habitude, but according to that of a most pure act.” The Writings of James Arminius (rpt. Baker Book House, 1977), p. 447.
[ii] The denial of God’s omniscience, as Miley pointed out, “Is not entirely new. Along the Christian centuries it occasionally appears in theological speculation. The earlier Socinianism openly avowed it. Some of the Remonstrants (the name the original followers of Arminius were called) held the same view, though it does not appear with Arminius himself,” cf. John Miley (who was quoted last week as a representative of the Arminian tradition) Systematic Theology I (The Methodist Book Concern, 1892), p. 181.
[iii] Process thought traces its origin back to the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947). Process theology took its cue from Whitehead and received it systematic form at the hands of Charles Hartshorne (1897-1991). God, according to the scheme, knows the world through his experience of it. God’s knowledge of reality is part of his identity. In this pantheistic light, as the world changes, so does God. God is thus di-polar, that is, he is both abstract and concrete. God’s abstract formal structure consists of those characteristics that never vary and are compatible with any state of affairs in the world. But this abstract, self-identity of God exists only as a necessary element in God; it is not God himself in his full, actual existence. The concrete pole of God knows the world, as the world grows—as new facts come into existence—God’s knowledge, precisely because it is perfect knowledge, must also grow. Hartshorne further maintains that the perfect knower must include the object known within himself. Therefore, as the perfect knower of the world, God must include the world within himself. cf. Dictionary of Christianity in America eds. D. G. Reid, R. D. Linder, B. L. Shelby, H. S. Stout (IVP, 1990), p. 946 and Process Theology ed. R. H. Nash, (Baker, 1987), pp. 3-58.
[iv] Greg Boyd, in an interview, was asked this question: “Throughout much of this century, process thought (viz., the unity of God and world in a single process of constant change) has gained popularity among mainline theologians. To what extent do you think this new trend in evangelical thinking is indebted to process theology? Boyd responded: “None. Despite uniformed protests to the contrary, the two movements have next to nothing in common.” Modern Reformation (Vol. 8, No. 6. Nov/Dec. 1999), p. 44. However, back in 1991 Boyd said something entirely different. In his PH. D. dissertation he proudly announced, “This work is, in essence, an attempt to work out a trinitarian-process metaphysic. It is our conviction that the fundamental vision of the process worldview, especially as espoused by Charles Hartshorne, is correct. But it is our conviction as well that the scriptural and traditional understanding of God as triune and antecedently actual within Godself is true, and is, in fact, a foundational doctrine of the Christian faith. But, we contend, these two views, when understood within a proper framework, do not conflict. Indeed, it shall be our contention that Hartshorne’s a priori process metaphysics, when corrected of certain misconstrued elements, actually requires something like a trinitarian understanding of God to make it consistent and complete! What results, we trust, is the outline of a metaphysical system which establishes, on an a priori basis, a process view of the world which requires a Trinitarian God for its completion…My warmest appreciation must also be expressed to Charles Hartshorne. Though I disagree with him on a great many points, he has influenced my own thinking more than any other single philosopher.” Trinity and Process (Peter Lang, 1992), preface, emphasis added). Process thought has had no impact on Boyd’s thinking? As the popular youth expression would put it, Get real.
[v] Cf. the discussion by Donald Bloesch, “Process Theology and Reformed Theology” in Process Theology ed. R. Nash, (Baker, 1987), pp. 31-58. Bloesch astutely points out Process thought views the Augustinian and Calvinistic doctrines of God’s sovereignty as its greatest enemy (p. 35). This hostility is likewise evident in Open View theism.
[vi] C. Pinnock, The Openness of God (IVP, 1994), p. 110.
[vii] Pinnock, p. 125.
[viii] Royce Gruenler, in his The Inexhaustible God: Biblical Faith and the Challenge of Process Theism (Baker, 1983) comments, “Process theism allows the modern thinker, as it did Protagoras of old, to be in charge of things. Although it tries to offer a solution to the problem of evil by limiting the power of God, its real motive, I am convinced, is to protect human freedom against the threat of a sovereign God. Accordingly, the real enemy of the modern process theist is not any one of the world religions or philosophies that competes with classical Christianity (for they are all, he holds, culturally relative and symbolic), but traditional biblical Christianity itself— orthodox, fundamental, evangelical faith as it was proclaimed by prophets, evangelists, and apostles; recorded in an infallibly inspired canon of Holy Scripture; and having to do with a God who is the sovereign creator, sustainer, and redeemer of the universe. It is this classical biblical faith, believed by Christians down to our own day, that is directly under attack.” (p. 7). He later says, “Perhaps the seriousness of the problem as it began to unfold before me can be better illustrated by describing what the stakes really are in the language game of process theism. At heart, I am convinced, the system sets out not so much to defend God against the charge of evil (God could still destroy this little globe if he chose to), but is designed to assure us that we are free from the despotic control of a sovereign God, such as confronts us in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. In order to be really free to choose without external compulsion from a sovereign God, other persons, or other finite entities, the process system requires that the individual emerging occasion (let us say you the reader) must be completely alone on the very edge of creativity where your willing self chooses one of a number of possibilities and makes it actual. In that moment you are, so says the system, all alone, like one of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s windowless monads. That is, on the front line of the emerging moment of creativity no one, not even God, looks sideways at your immediacy, nor do you look sideways at his immediacy. Each of us, from God down to the subatomic particle, is quite alone in the moment of choice (of course in the case of descendingly lower occasions of feeling the choice is correspondingly of lower intensity)” (p. 18). What Gruenler has described could equally be said of Open View theism.
[ix] Pinnock, p. 113.
[x] J. A. Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary (IVP, 1993), p. 370.
[xi] Gregory Boyd, God of the Possible (Baker, 2000), p. 30.
[xii] Boyd, p. 31
[xiii] Bruce Ware, God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism (Crossways, 2000), p. 119.
Sola Scriptura , the formal principle of the Protestant Reformation, is essential to genuine Christianity, for it declares that the Bible is the inspired word of God, the churchs only rule of faith and practice. Yet this doctrine is under assault today as never before, both from outside and and inside the church.
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