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Think on These Things Articles

Open Theism - Part 3

(July 2002 - Volume 8, Issue 5) 

The Frustrated God

In the mind of the open theist, God not only does not control most events on this planet, He is also blindsided by many of them – not able to foresee the future (as we saw in our last paper). Additionally, the God of openism apparently has no real purpose in most incidents – being almost as clueless and frustrated as we are. We encounter this rather unappetizing view of God in a story Gregory Boyd tells of a dedicated young lady who desired to be a missionary to Taiwan. She prayed earnestly for a likeminded husband and God led her to just the right man. Not only was this young man’s heart set on a lifetime of ministry in Taiwan, but also God confirmed that their marriage was His will by overwhelming her with “a supernatural sense of joy and peace.” There could be no question, she now believed, that this marriage was God’s design for her life, and so they wed. However, two years after graduation from Bible college their marriage unraveled due to unfaithfulness by the husband. Bitter at God, this young lady approached Boyd and asked how she could ever trust a God who could so mislead her. Boyd, not recognizing that this gal was blaming God for her own misplaced and unbiblical trust in mystical leadings of the Lord (a subject we will pick up another day) could only offer one solution that would get God off the hook. He suggested that “God felt regret over the confirmation He had given Suzanne.” It was most likely that God orchestrated the couple’s marriage because at the time God thought it was a good match. The Lord had no way of knowing that her husband would leave her. Had He known how things would turn out, He would not have told her to marry him. God is now grieved. He is sorry, but He did the best He could with the information He had available.[1]

So according to one of the leading theologians within the open system, not only is God ignorant of the future, but He can actually make mistakes. He can lead His people in the wrong direction, causing unintended and purposeless heartache, and the best He can say is “I feel your pain.” I must confess this “new and improved” God leaves me a bit cold. Still, if Scripture actually paints this picture of God it matters little what I, or anyone else wants in their God, we are obligated to embrace it. Let’s take a closer look, then, at how open theists view God and see if their understanding is biblical. We have already seen that to open theists God is a being of time, as we are, and therefore does not know, nor can He always accurately predict the future. In what other ways is the open God limited?

A God Who Lacks Purpose

There was a young girl this year at Bethel who was killed by a drunk driver, and a lot of students were wondering what purpose God had in “taking her home.” But this I regard to simply be a piously confused way of thinking. The drunk driver alone is to blame for the girl’s untimely death. The only purpose of God in the whole thing is His design to allow morally responsible people the right to decide whether to drink responsibly or irresponsibly.[2]

The above account illustrates well the open view of God’s active involvement in the affairs of His people. Boyd elaborates, “It is true that according to the open view things can happen in our lives that God didn’t plan or even foreknow with certainty (though he always foreknew they were possible). This means that in the open view things can happen to us that have no overarching divine purpose. In this view, ‘trusting God’ provides no assurance that everything that happens to us will reflect his divine purposes.”[3] Richard Rice wants us to know the rubber really meets the road especially in the face of sin and evil. When a child contracts an incurable disease, “It is a pointless evil. The holocaust is pointless evil. The rape and dismemberment of a young girl is pointless evil. The accident that caused the death of my brother was a tragedy. God does not have a specific purpose in mind for these occurrences.”[4]

Of course most of us want to challenge these assertions with Romans 8:28, But we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose. Boyd heads us off at the pass with this snappy reinterpretation of this most beloved passage, which totally guts it of its power and comfort, “Whatever happens God will work with us to bring a redemptive purpose out of the event.”[5] Of course the passage says no such thing. God is not working with us to bring a redemptive purpose; God is causing all things to work together for our good, which in the context is our conformity to Christ (v.29). Bruce Ware comments, “While claiming to offer meaningfulness to Christian living, open theism strips the believer of the one thing needed most for a meaningful and vibrant life of faith: absolute confidence in God’s character, wisdom, word, promise, and the sure fulfillment of his will. The strengthening and reassuring truth of Romans 8:28 is tragically ripped out of our Christian confession as it becomes an expression merely of God’s resolve to try his hardest and to do the best he can.”[6]

A God Who is Frustrated and Mistaken

It gets worse. The open God not only has no planned design for our experiences, but as He works in our lives He can actually be wrong, change His mind and make mistakes. When He does, He is frustrated and grieved, but helpless to do otherwise. “Only God is aware,” David Basinger writes, “of all relevant factors, and only he is in a position to determine the best course(s) of action given these factors. However,” he goes on, “since God does not necessarily know exactly what will happen in the future, it is always possible that even that which God in his unparalleled wisdom believes to be the best course of action at any given time may not produce the anticipated results in the long run.”[7] The open thinkers believe that God made predictions in the Bible that turned out wrong,[8] and He has the same track record in our lives today. Even things that God determines to happen occasionally fail, “Although certain things did (and do) happen in harmony with divine predestination, this does not mean that these events could not possibly have failed to occur. As we have seen, the Bible clearly indicates that God has often experienced disappointment and frustration.”[9] To get His way God has to battle also with the forces of evil, and sometimes He does not come out a clear winner, “The powers of darkness put up stiff resistance and to a degree block God’s plans; that is, they can restrict God’s ability to respond to a given crisis.”[10] It is no wonder then that the open God “is often as disappointed as are we that someone’s earthly existence has ended at an early age or that someone is experiencing severe depression or that someone is being tortured.”[11]

What the open theologians are offering is a God who pleads, prompts, persuades and predicts, but has severely reduced power. Devils, humans and circumstances can trump Him. He is doing His best, but He can only do so much. He is as frustrated with sin and evil as we are and would like to do more about it but is limited by the present and future free choices of His creatures. All He can do some days is to wring His hands and regret ever having created us.

A God Who Needs Help

What could possibly motivate these theologians to attempt to replace the omnipotent sovereign God of Scripture with this weak-kneed rendition? It would seem to be the overwhelming desire to preserve at all cost the freewill status of the individual. Rice speaks for the movement, “Where human decision is presupposed, however, God cannot achieve his objectives unilaterally. He requires our cooperation. Endowing creatures with significant freedom means that God gave them the ability to decide a good deal of what occurs. Consequently, the actual course of history is not something God alone decides by himself. God and the creatures both contribute.”[12] Pinnock agrees, “The future is determined by God not alone but in partnership with human agents. God gives us a role in shaping what the future will be. He is flexible and does not insist on doing things his way. God will adjust his own plans because he is sensitive to what humans think and do.”[13] And Basinger adds, “God voluntarily forfeits control over earthy affairs in those cases where he allows us to exercise this freedom.”[14] To the open theists if God controls the future (Calvinism) or even knows the future (Arminianism) then mankind’s choices are not truly free. In order to protect and promote this extreme and lopsided view of human freedom the open thinkers have chosen, contrary to Scripture, to offer a limited and feeble version of God.

Open theism takes all the scriptural evidence for the omnipotency, sovereignty, control and foreknowledge of God, strains it through the grid of personal freedom, producing an image of God barely recognizable by previous generations of Christians. God is reduced to one who does not know the future; does not control His creation; is at the mercy of human and demonic choices; stands by helpless as world events unfold; and is frustrated because things did not turn out differently. The God of openism is so impotent and lacking in wisdom and insight that He often leads His children in directions doomed to failure. Moreover, He is influenced by the prayers of His people to the extent that He is prone to grant requests that He is relatively certain are mistakes, and serve no purpose in His design. This issue of prayer is supposedly one of the attractive features of openism. “Because it holds that the future is not entirely settled and that God’s plans can change, the open view is able to render the purpose and urgency of prayer intelligible in a way that neither classical Arminianism nor classical Calvinism can.”[15] As attractive as this might seem on first encounter consider these words by Ware: “Given the supremacy of God in all these relevant ways, and given the deeply sinful and vastly limited perspectives we bring to the table, do we really want God to do what we think he should do?[16]

When, due to His leading or action in response to prayer, unexpected tragedy occurs, the best that God can do is say, “Sorry, I will try better next time.” And on top of everything else God has no purpose in much of what happens on the earth. Things happen because they happen. They happen simply because God has allowed free choice to reign supreme. Life is a series of accidents after all – not appointments. God has little more idea than we as to how things will turn out. The Lord of open theism has sketched out the big picture for the future but the details are loose ends waiting to be tied up by our choices. If the open God is the true God we are left with a hollowed out shell of the sovereign God described in Scripture. We will pick up this subject next time.

 


[1] Gregory A. Boyd, God of the Possible ( Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), pp.103-106.

[2] Gregory A. Boyd, Letters from a Skeptic (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1994), p. 47.

[3] Boyd, God of the Possible, p. 153

[4] Richard Sanders, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1998), p. 60.

[5] Boyd, God of the Possible pp. 155-156.

[6] Bruce A. Ware, God’s Lesser Glory ( Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000), p. 21.

[7] David Basinger, “Practical Implications” in The Openness of God, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), p. 165

[8] See Sanders pp. 131-132 where he gives examples from Exodus 3-4 and Jeremiah 3, as evidence for this idea.

[9] Richard Rice, “Biblical Support for a New Perspective” in The Openness of God, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), p. 56

[10] Clark H. Pinnock, “Systematic Theology” in The Openness of God, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), p. 115

[11]Basinger, p. 170

[12] Rice, p. 56

[13] Pinnock, p.116

[14] Basinger p. 159

[15] Boyd, God of the Possible, p. 95

[16] Ware p. 169