Why the Open View of God Doesn’t Make Sense

Posted: April 9, 2009 in Uncategorized

The open view of God teaches that God doesn’t know the future because He can not know what doesn’t exist or that He simply chooses not to in order to grant us free will.  Proponents of this view include megachurch pastor Greg Boyd, theologian Clark Pinnock and philosopher William Hasker.  The idea has gained ground in evangelical circles because its adherents believe, among other things, that it absolves God of evil; after all, if He can’t foresee it then He can’t be held liable for it. 

Is there any merit to all of this?

D.A. Carson has pointed out that the view doesn’t actually absolve God of evil but simply turns Him into the “god of slow reaction times.”  For example, open theists claim that one cannot charge God with guilt for September 11th because He could not have foreseen the planes flying into the World Trade Center, but at what time did God know that it would happen? Why not act after the first plane hit? Carson has a point!

But let’s cut to the chase and deal directly with Scripture and let’s even set aside texts like Isaiah 40-48 which states that YHWH is the one true God because He knows the future, and let’s deal with Peter’s denials in the Gospels (Matthew 26; Mark 14; Luke 22 and John 18). 

Open theists like Boyd argue that the reason Jesus could predict that Peter would deny him three times (pretty specific) is that Jesus knew Peter so well that he could perfectly predict what he would do under certain circumstances.

Let’s grant Boyd this analysis.  In fact, let’s also grant him his assertion that although God doesn’t know the future, He knows all things past and present perfectly.   

And then, he is in trouble.

If Jesus can predict what Peter will do perfectly in any situation because He knows him that well and God knows all things then He knows us all so perfectly that He can predict what we will do, which means He knows the future anyway! I mean if He knows what we will all do under any situation then how can He not “know” the future anyway?

I’ve yet to hear that asked of Boyd.

But, regardless, in the end, the open view of God just doesn’t work.

I say, let the mystery of the Trinitarian God be mysterious!

Grace and peace.

  1. Derek says:

    “The difference between “exhaustive divine foreknowledge” and “exhaustively definite foreknowledge” is significant. If one is willing to understand the open view in terms of its own understanding of reality, open theists do not deny that God possesses exhaustive knowledge of the future. In our view, as in the classical view, God’s knowledge is co-extensive with reality. What we deny is that the future is exhaustively definite. In our view, the future is partly composed of possibilities. Hence, precisely because we affirm that God’s knowledge is perfect, we hold that God knows the future as partly definite and partly indefinite. He possesses exhaustive foreknowledge, for he knows everything about the future there is to know. But he does not possess exhaustively definite foreknowledge, for the future he perfectly knows is not exhaustively definite. As we have consistently maintained, the disagreement between open theists and classical theists is not over the scope of God’s knowledge, but over the content of reality that God’s perfectly knows.”
    ( from http://www.gregboyd.org/essays/essays-open-theism/response-to-bruce-wares-defining-evangelicalisms-boundries-is-open-theism-evangelical/ )

    Response to Peter’s Denials:

    Not that I hold an open view but Boyd does defend it rather well on his website.

    • Revolution says:



      I read Boyd in seminary (along with Sanders, Hasker, Pinnock, etc.). All of my profs had drunk the kool-aid and I even advocated it for the first few years of my ministry. However, I don’t think Boyd answers my question at all. Also, Boyd does in fact often deny that God knows the future with the exception of the cross. He has made some contradictory statements over the years, but still seems to come out on the “prediction is not knowing” plank. The problem with that is the one doing the predicting! If God does know everything there is to be known at the present so perfectly that he can predict what everyone one of us would do in a given situation then he can also predict which of these situation will occur, so when does it rise to the level of “knowledge.”

      Also, this is something I skipped, open theists don’t deal with the problem of time very well. Time only accompanies matter. Would Boyd say that God is matter rathern than eternal spirit? This is the reason I follow Boethius in that God is “eternally present” i.e., God is above time and sees past, present and future as one.

      Anyway, thanks for the links! Appreciate it.

  2. Amen. thanks for the post. good food to think on.

  3. Derek says:

    I agree that God is above time and I’m not sure what the actual point of the open view is. It’s so abstract. I think “let the mystery be mysterious” sums it up well.

    In any case, I think it’s a minor difference, not particularly heretical. I really do enjoy Boyd even when I disagree.

  4. Peter says:

    Pator Matt,

    That is not a lot of content or thinking as far as a wrestling with say the original questions of pain or free will or the nature of a personal God.

    Comes across therefore to me as a bit flippant and, though not necessarily overtly disrespectful, still lacking respect. And if you cannot respect Open thiests, then please at least the questions and the people to whom the questions may be important, and we all deserve some attention to detail. If the q’s are not important then this merits further explanation.

    I think it hard not to acknowledge a (healthy) tension on this issue created by apparently differing ways that God works as evidenced by many texts and passages in the Bible. But putting out a few passages on one side does nothing to synthesise or develop truth or ease the tension.

    It seems to me that a some of the divides in theology can be explained by the mystery that different camps can tolerate. “Choose your mystery”. Is this what your theology comes down to? I enjoy mystery, sometimes I prefer it to theology! You seem to also be in this position?

    Yours sincerely, Peter

    • Revolution says:


      Thanks. This is not a blog for academics but largely for people in a new church plant, so the content is going to be a little thin at times–if for no other reason than my own simple time contraints.

      You are right that I don’t have a lot of respect for open theists and that is another blog post for another day. However, I tend to be flippant about a lot of things…just me!

      That being said, as posted, I was an open theist and for the same reasons that many hold that position (theodicy, free will, etc.). However, I don’t think it is right for we finite creatures to develop a theology as therapy.

      As to mystery, orthodox theologians have long agreed that there is mystery but that doesn’t mean anything goes. Francis Schaffer wrote, “We know God truly but now wholly” and it is rightly said of John Calvin that he went as far as he believed Scripture clearly went and then simply sang the doxology. I do believe it is possible to affirm a doctrine that one cannot explain (i.e., the Trinity). How God can know the future but still hold us responsible for evil is one such doctrine in my opinion.

      If I get the time to go text-by-text then I certainly will (and some have, look for the book “How Much Does God Foreknow?” by Steve Roy). For example, are open theists willing to concede that there are some anthropomorphisms in Scripture? Did God really need to see Sodom in order to “know” what was happening there (Gen. 18)? Also, Sanders and others argue that God was testing Abraham in Genesis 22 to see if God could rely on him but does that mean God rushed into a covenant in Gen. 12 with someone He didn’t know He could trust? Did God really bet the redemption of all creation on someone He wasn’t 100% sure of? Yet to see good answers from open theists on these questions or any of those I raised in my blog post. And, since they propose a radical shift in the understanding of God, the burden of proof is on them!

      Thanks for the comment!

  5. Peter says:

    Pastor Matt

    Thank-you, that was a gracious reply and makes me think I should be more gracious myself.

    I guess I am not so sold on the Open theist position, but Clark Pinnock’s chapter on prayer in Most Moved Mover, not necessarily the whole book, was part of a thinking where thereafter for the first time I might have really believed God answered prayer. This following years of evangelical Christian culture and teaching. This felt like growth and healing. Perhaps it was therapy too.

    I would say, independent of Open theism, I was otherwise despondent with Calvinism. And speaking of therapy, if there was another believer who also needed therapy (!), I think it might have been Calvin. The therapy bit relates to the developing of a theology of certainty… Well again remind me to be more gracious. I know I would be so honoured to meet Calvin…

    Just recently, I have been able to read again with joy the Apostle Paul, after many years of a sort of trauma that came with sermons not about Paul’s writing but oportunisitic “pentapointilism” – all roads lead to one of Calvin’s tenets, sort of like wearing polaroid glasses at church. Paranoid thinking that quenched the Spirit. But now I see Paul as also a desperate pragmatist full of love. I now attend a particularly Calvinistic church but regardless of the theology (which I really have a hard time disagreeing with, yes this despite all of the above) because I do feel that there is a gracious spirit, and also I do feel the Pastor can really sit with the text and is not afraid of uncertainty.

    Well I wish I could get into the specifics of your questions except that I do not have many answers, and really I am just as happy to explore both sides of this apparent tension. The bit about anthropomorphisms interests me, I am not sure what you are asking. My sense is that the Open position does acknowledge that the only way we can know God is through the human “models” embedded in scriptures and our lives and culture and so on (spouse, judge, King). In this way God really does come to us. So we can only know God through scriptures which speak in postmodern sense through recognizable symbols. I cannot immediately see that scriptures create new symbols in terms of relationship with God (?). Chicken egg? Have to think about this. This speaks to willingness to be flexible in translation, an argument to be more symbolically flexible.

    Well again, thanks for your corrective tone.

    • Revolution says:


      Again, thanks so much.

      What I mean by “therapy” is a machiavellian move to define God in terms that make sense to us in order to soften the edges of orthodoxy and fit into our preconceived notions of fairness, etc. In other words, creating our own God to make us feel more comfortable. But is that really the God of Scripture? Personally, a God that made perfect sense to me would be troubling.

      One of the reasons I have a hard time respecting the more celebrated open theists (like Pinnock, Boyd and Sanders) is that they speak with such certainty about such an unorthodox position. When confronted with texts that don’t fit their model they don’t respond with due humility. I have a great respect for anyone who say, “you know these verses just don’t seem to make sense to me…what about this idea…” while fully recognizing that it is problematic that something so big could be missed by Christ’s church for nearly 2000 years!

      As to anthropomorphisms, I am speaking about Scripture’s way of dealing with God in human terms, etc. as is clear from Genesis 18. Boyd, Pinnock and Sanders are not going to state that God needed to actually physically walk into Sodom to “know” what was going on and, so my question to them then would be “Why make an exception there?” Could Scripture also be speaking similarly when God tells Moses to move so that He can destroy Israel but then relents after Moses intercedes in Exodus 32?

      As to that passage (which Boyd makes a lot of), could God not be teaching Moses to mediate for his people and to love them? Theologically isn’t there a problem with the idea that God’s grace was dependant on something outside of Himself? Would the Apostle Paul accept that?

      As to prayer, have you read Douglas Kelly’s book “If God Really Knows Why Pray?” If not, I recommend it.

      Again, thank you for your thoughtful comments and God bless!

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