The Omniscience of God and the Heresy of Open-View Theism – Part IV
Introduction: Historically both Calvinists and Arminians have concurred in affirming that God does possess exhaustive foreknowledge of the future. The respected Arminian theologian John Miley wrote, “Omniscience must be an immediate and eternal knowing. The knowledge which is not immediate and eternal must be an acquisition. For the acquisition there must be time and a mental process. Such knowledge must be limited. An acquired omniscience is not a thinkable possibility. The ideas are too alien for any scientific association in rational thought. Hence we must either admit an immediate and eternal knowing in God or deny his omniscience. These alternatives are complete and absolute.”[i] The Reformed position is succinctly set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith. “His knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, so nothing is to Him contingent, or uncertain” (Ch. 2, sec. 2).
Some Arminians however, have always had a tendency to pursue their cherished libertarian concept of free will to its logical conclusion and thus end up denying God’s omniscience. Note the following illustration. Let us say that God knows from eternity that you will choose soup from next Tuesday’s lunch menu; how can you choose salad instead? If you do, God would have been mistaken. If God’s knowledge is certain, your choice of soup is somehow inevitable. This is totally unacceptable as Open-View theist Richard Rice observes, “And if the future is inevitable, then the apparent experience of free choice is an illusion.”[ii]
Clark Pinnock, the best known of all the Open-View theists makes the same emphatic point, “Philosophically speaking, if choices are real and freedom significant, future decisions cannot be exhaustively foreknown. This is because the future is not determinate but shaped in part by human choices. The future does not yet exist and therefore cannot be infallibly anticipated, even by God. Future decisions cannot in every way be foreknown, because they have not yet been made. God knows everything that can be known—but God’s foreknowledge does not include the undecided. It would seriously undermine the reality of our decisions if they were known in advance, spelled out in a heavenly register and absolutely certain to happen. It would make the future fixed and certain and render illusory the sense of our making choices between real options”[iii] (emphasis mine).
There are a number of passages of Scripture in the book of Isaiah that strongly underscores God’s detailed knowledge of the future. Even Open View theist Greg Boyd admits this, “Undoubtedly the strongest statements in all of Scripture regarding the foreknowledge of God come from Isaiah.”[iv] Today we are going to examine the astonishing portrayal of God’s exhaustive foreknowledge as it is repeatedly set forth in Isaiah 40-48. There are at least nine separate sections that highlight the fact that the Biblical God knows the future, in contrast to the false gods who do not (and, I would add, to the God of Open View theism).
I. Isaiah 41:21-29
This passage contains a direct challenge by God to the idols that they prove their deity by declaring what is to come (vv. 22-23). Regarding this the great Puritan Stephen Charnock long ago remarked, “Such a foreknowledge of things to come is here ascribed to God by God himself, as a distinction of him from all false gods. Such a knowledge that, if any could prove that they were possessors of, he would acknowledge them gods as well as himself; ‘that we may know that you are gods.’ He puts his Deity to stand or fall upon this account, and this should be the point that should decide the controversy whether he or the heathen idols were the true God. The dispute is managed by this medium: he that knows things to come is God; I know things to come, ergo I am God: the idols know not things to come, therefore they are not gods. God submits the being of his Deity to this trial. If God knows things to come no more than the heathen idols, which were either devils or men, he would be, in his own account, no more a God than devils or men; no more a God than the pagan idols he doth scoff at for this defect. If the heathen idols were to be stripped of their deity for want of this foreknowledge of things to come, would not the true God also fall from the same excellency if he were defective in knowledge? He would, in his own judgment, no more deserve the title and character of a God than they.”[v]
II. Isaiah 42:8-9
Note how God’s omniscience (exhaustive knowledge of the future included) is linked here with God’s glory. “God is known as God and deserving of glory as God precisely because he has brought to pass what has happened and because he now declares new things that will come to be. God’s claim to deity and his right to unsurpassed and exclusive glory are founded on his knowledge and control of what occurs in history, including his ability to declare what will take place in the future. Before these new things come to be, God proclaims them—thus demonstrating his worth and excellence and the basis for his exclusive claim to glory.”[vi]
III. Isaiah 43:8-15
God’s attributes of omniscience and omnipotence are coupled (v. 12). Young insightfully comments, “Again this verse begins with the emphatic personal pronoun. Our attention is kept upon Yahweh, the only Savior. In the preceding there has been emphasis both upon God’s foreknowledge and upon His power. Now the two concepts are combined. God has made known; He has also saved, and He has caused the people to hear concerning these truths. When God did this there was no strange god among the people. The word translated stranger refers often to men, but here indicates that there was no strange or foreign god present to announce or to perform the things Yahweh has announced and performed. The word need not be taken as a denial of the presence of idolatry, but is simply a strong way of asserting that there is no god among the people who can do the things their God has done.”[vii]
IV. Isaiah 44:6-8
The intrinsic argumentation of this passage is clear: God has announced and declared what has happened in Israel’s history. They are witnesses of his declarations and of the accuracy of what he has said. This proves that God alone is God, and that there is no other Rock than the God of Israel. Therefore, they are to take heart and have hope (another way of saying, “Do not tremble and do not be afraid”), because the same God who has known and declared all of their prior history now declares what will occur in the future. He knows and is in control, and he is their Rock. So, Israel, hope in God! One is faced again with the debilitating and harmful effects on the people of God if they lose confidence that God knows and can declare accurately what the future holds. “The logic of this text would lead us to say that confidence in God is based on God’s sure and certain grasp of all that occurs in history. Without this, we soon wonder whether things are spinning out of control and whether God truly is God over history. The reassurance God gives is simple: From the beginning and throughout all of your history I have known and declared what will be. I can do this because I am God. Therefore, do not fear.”[viii]
V. Isaiah 44:24-28
This passage asserts that God will bring about events such as the re-inhabiting and rebuilding of Jerusalem. According to Open View theism God cannot know this for certain. When you consider the magnitude of what God says it becomes clear that this will involve thousands of people each making individual decisions—how can God know for certain that this will happen? Open-View theists actually say that what God is doing amounts to guesswork. He possesses, according to Open View thinking, an amazing, even uncanny, ability to anticipate human actions—and to a remarkable degree He is right—most of the time. Open View theist Greg Boyd thinks this is the proper way to understand passages such as this. God, according to Boyd, “knows us perfectly, far better than we even know ourselves. Hence, we can assume that he is able to predict our behavior far more extensively and accurately than we could predict it ourselves. This does not mean that everything we will ever do is predictable, for our present character doesn’t determine all of our future. But it does mean that our behavior is predictable to the extent that our character is solidified and future circumstances that will affect us are in place.”[ix]
VI. Isaiah 45:1-7
Once again God is declaring exactly what will happen in the future. A vast multitude of future actions are said by God to certainly come to pass. Regarding King Cyrus (who would not even be born for another two hundred years!) How can God simply guess that all the events necessary for this to happen will occur? Ware asks, “How can God predict and guarantee such things as the naming of a future king, his ascendancy to power, his leadership ability and disposition to conquer, his sure victories in battles, the plundering of others’ treasuries, the shattering of bronze doors and iron bars, etc., unless God knows and regulates precisely what will in fact occur in the future. In the openness model, with the bulk of these future events dependent on future free choices, none of which God can either know or regulate, it becomes impossible to account for the certainty and exactness of these predictions and their fulfillment.”[x]
VII. Isaiah 45:18-23
As we have seen before, God chooses to contrast himself with the “wooden idol,” with the “god who cannot save” (45:20). The basis of this contrast, he says, is revealed by this challenge: “Declare and set forth your case” (45:21). Since the idol can say nothing, he continues, “Who has announced this from of old? Who has long since declared it? Is it not I, the Lord? And there is no other God besides Me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none except Me” (45:21). Then, in what follows, God tells us that it is on the basis of “the word” that has gone forth from his mouth that every knee will bow and every tongue will swear allegiance to him and to him alone (45:23). The point is so very clear: The “Godness” of God and his worth before which all will bow are proven and demonstrated by his word. His word and character are righteous (45:19, 21, 23, 24) and so God’s word reflects who God is in his very nature. Furthermore, God did not have to speak this word publicly; he could have spoken it in secret. But he went public (45:19, “I have not spoken in secret, in some dark land”) precisely because he wanted people to hear and testify that God and his word are altogether righteous. Given this depiction of the righteous word and character of God, and given that his word and character jointly are the unified basis by which all people will bow and swear allegiance to him alone, it is altogether unfitting and dishonoring to God to imagine that God’s word may be wrong![xi]
Conclusion: It is interesting to note that the leading Open View theologians, almost without exception, give scant attention to these texts in Isaiah (in many case they don’t even mention them). In other words they ignore the clear teaching of Scripture and resort to highly questionable interpretations of those passages of Scripture that historically speaking have been understood to be using anthropomorphisms (i.e., God changing His mind or repenting). The Reformers spoke of the ANALOGIA SCRIPTURAE—the analogy of Scripture. This means that the interpretation of unclear or difficult texts (or even ones that appear ambiguous, i.e., God does not appear to know something as in the case of Gen. 18:21) are to be interpreted by those text that are clear and unambiguous. Next week we will examine Isaiah 46:8-11 and 48:3-11.
[i] J. Miley, Systematic Theology I (Methodist Book Concern, 1892), p. 180.
[ii] Richard Rice “Divine Foreknowledge and Free-Will Theism” The Grace of God, the Will of Man: A Case for Arminianism ed. C. Pinnock (Zondervan, 1989), p. 127.
[iii] Clark Pinnock, in The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God (IVP, 1994), p. 123. Elsewhere Pinnock says, “Decisions not yet made do not exist anywhere to be known even by God. They are potential—yet to be realized but not yet actual. God can predict a great deal of what we will choose to do, but not all of it, because some of it remains hidden in the mystery of human freedom…The God of the Bible displays an openness to the future (i.e., ignorance of the future) that the traditional view of omniscience simply cannot accommodate,” in The Grace of God, The Will of Man p. 25.
[iv] G. Boyd, God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God (Baker, 2000), p. 24. Boyd, however is not convinced that these texts actually teach God’s exhaustive foreknowledge, and so after a very brief discussion Boyd dismisses the claims of Classic theism and declares that all that these texts really tell us is that God is somehow able to bring about His purposes when events unfold that He knew nothing about! Cf. p. 31.
[v] S. Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God (rpt. Klock & Klock, 1977), p. 203.
[vi] Bruce Ware, God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism (Crossways, 2000), p. 105. This is an outstanding book and provides an unanswerable critique of Open View theism.
[vii] E. J. Young, The Book of Isaiah III (Eerdmans, 1979), p. 150.
[viii] Ware, op. cit. p. 108.
[ix] Boyd, op. cit. p. 35. Open View theist John Sanders is even more daring. He argues that God not only does not know the future exhaustively but that God is often mistaken and dismayed! Cf. his The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence (IVP, 1998), p. 132. Sanders is so bold as to suggest that God could possibly sin! (p. 328).
[x] Ware, op. cit. p. 112.
This book is a compilation of several of Dr. Bahnsen’s published works on Christian apologetics, including his Apologetics syllabus, articles on practical apologetic problems (like the problem of evil, the problem of miracles, etc.), and an exposition of Acts 17.
Especially helpful: In part five, Dr. Bahnsen lists 5 of the most often encountered attacks against Christianity and offers some great rebuttals to them using Presuppositional Apologetics.
- The Immorality of Neutrality
- The Nature of Unbelieving Thought
- The Mind of the New Man Rooted in Christ
- The Foolishness of Unbelief
- A Two-Fold Apologetic Procedure
- Answering the Fool
- Worldviews in Collision
- The Ultimate Starting Point: God’s Word
- And many more…
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“Many have observed Bahnsen’s ability to debate, and have seen or heard how he has tackled head-on unbelievers in various venues. This work gives us some of the content of what was going through the mind of this notable apologist, whom even John Frame believed was the best debater for Presuppositionalism.
For the astute and willing student, Bahnsen provides the tools in this book to be equipped in their own apologetics with nonbelievers. As one who’s life goal was to “take it to the streets” in applying apologetics rather than just discussing theory, Bahnsen’s insight has also been tested in real debate situation. For instance, his chapter on the problem of evil will illuminate readers as to why he took the approach he did concerning the problem of “evil” in his famous debate with atheist Gordon Stein. His discussion of the problem of miracle and religious language towards the end of the work are also valuable in the apologist’s arsenal, especially for those who take it seriously to be “always ready”, even with the more philosophically sophisticated unbeliever.
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About the Author: Greg L. Bahnsen was the scholar-in-residence at the Southern California Center for Christian Studies and an ordained minister iin the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Southern California, specializing in the field of epistemology (theory of Knowledge). He also received M.Div. and Th.M. degrees from Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia. Dr. Bahnsen was the author of numerous books and published articles and was a popular conference speaker. He was also a renowned public debater as evidenced in his interchanges with Muslims, Roman Catholics, Jews, and atheists. He is perhaps most remembered for his skilled debates with atheists like Dr. Gordon Stein, which gave him the title of being “the man atheists fear most”. In apologetic circles, he was recognized as the primary defender of the presuppositional method.