Thank you to Matthew Rose for this guest post on a topic mentioned in the previous post. Matthew is an ordained minister and the Lead Pastor of Hess Road Wesleyan Church.
I remember the moment surprisingly well. I was a very young pastor, working in my home church, when a well-respected elder came to me and asked if I’d ever heard of ‘open theism’. I had heard of it, but just barely. I told him that it was an extreme and minority view that denied God’s omniscience. I also told him, however, that I’d look into it more carefully.
Soon thereafter, a couple of books I’d ordered on the topic arrived in the mail. I began to read them, mostly in order to pin-point areas of disagreement so I’d be better equipped to point people away from open theism in the future. As I read through the material, however, I felt myself having a hard time disagreeing with the open theist authors. Before too long, I began to ‘open up’ to the idea that open theism might actually be true.
Let me interrupt my own post for a moment to explain the basic beliefs of open theists. First, open theists believe that God is love. God’s loving character is their central concern. Second, open theists believe that, because of this relational nature, God created a world which included genuinely free creatures (capable of love). Third, open theists believe, philosophically, that the future does not yet exist. The future is partially ‘open’ (hence the label) to a number of possibilities (depending on how free creatures use their freedom to love).
It is this view of the openness of the future that distinguishes open theism from classical Arminianism (the more typical Wesleyan view). Open theists suggest that the common view (God existing in all-time) is more of a philosophical view than a biblical one. What’s more, open theists consider this omnitemporal view of God problematic. After all, if God exists in all-time, then the past, present, and future are equally settled from God’s perspective and , therefore, not ‘open’ to change. This seems contrary to genuine freedom and therefore God’s loving purposes for creation.
Open theism, though, isn’t based on a mere difference of opinion on the philosophical nature of time. It is also based on what appears to be obvious in the biblical literature. In Scripture, God sometimes changes His mind. He seems to be flexible. He tests people to discover their spiritual allegiance. All of this, at least given a surface level reading, seems to speak against the idea that God is omnitemporal. Open theists argue that God takes risks, trusts, and hopes as He partners with people in bringing about a desired future.
Technically, open theists do believe that God is omniscient. God is all-knowing. God knows all there is to know and knows all things perfectly as they are. God knows the future perfectly as it is. God knows it as a set of possibilities. God knows some things that He will surely do in the future, but God knows the future free will choices of individuals perfectly as they are… as possibilities (not yet realities). God, in fact, knows all the possibilities. Being omnisapient, God is prepared for all possibilities too.
Eventually, I found the case for open theism to be more compelling than competing viewpoints. I think it makes sense of the biblical material and offers better solutions to issues like the problem of pain. Of course, I could be wrong. The open theism position is not without its problems. It seems the two biggest arguments against open theism are its lack of support in Christian history and it’s struggle to account for some of the detail-specific prophetic material in the Bible. I’m ‘open’ to being persuaded away from open theism.
Yet, given that open theism is largely a disagreement on the philosophical nature of time (and God’s relationship to time), it would seem silly (from my point of view, at least) for Christians to fight about this issue. In fact, one might wonder why we should care about this debate at all. It can come across as simply a bunch of theological jargon. What practical difference does being an open theists make? Let me finish up my post by sharing 3 ways open theism has made a difference in my life as a Christian.
First, it has improved my prayer life. I have to admit, I struggled with the concept of prayer before I became an open theist. It bothered me that I was praying for things to change when the future was already settled from God’s perspective. Could I really ask God to change something that seemed so set in stone? Once I became an open theist, I began to pray with a real sense that I could genuinely partner with God and change the future for good through that partnership.
Second, open theism has helped me develop a more hopeful view of the future, particularly in regards to evangelistic efforts. I found it difficult, previously, to stay motivated in evangelism if God already knew who was going to end up ‘in’ and who was going to end up ‘out’. If open theism is true, however, who is in and who is out is really an open question. It really does depend on how well the church partners with God to change the world.
Third, and finally, open theism has helped me to fall more in love with God. I must admit, I love this idea of a God who loves enough to take risks, trust, and hope. I love the idea of a God who is creative, flexible, and wise enough to win no matter what free choices creatures make. I love the idea of a God who lovingly partners with us as we move, together, into the future.