A few months ago I finished reading the book Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views. This book is a discussion of the views on how God’s foreknowledge works and how that fits in with human freedom and the problem of evil. The book is pretty complicated in terms of its material but I recommend it to any Christian that has questions in this area of theology.
One view in particular is called open-theism. Gregory Boyd, a contributor to the book and proponent of open-theism, says that “the debate over God’s foreknowledge is rather a debate over the content of reality that God perfectly knows. It has more to do with the doctrine of creation than it does with the doctrine of God” (13). Open-theism basically states that God has foreknowledge of only the past and present world. He only knows what actually exists in reality. Since the future does not exist in reality God does not know the future. He knows the future as a set of maybes or possibilities but He does not know the future exhaustively. Also, under this view, God can change His mind, express frustration, experience regret, and confronts the unexpected (24-34). The future is open and not “set” and this view is thus called open-theism.
Theologians have generally defined God’s foreknowledge as being exhaustive. This means that God knows the future completely and wholly. God knows all truths and cannot hold any false beliefs.
Open-theism is based on the presupposition of process theology. Process theology derives from the thought of the English philosopher-mathematician Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) and the American philosopher-ornithologist Charles Hartshorne (1897-2000) (Process). Process theology believes that humans are in a sense “growing” with God in knowledge and power as time progresses. This theology has been rejected by the vast majority of theologians and has been declared a heresy.
The first big problem with open-theism is that it is based of a literal interpretation of anthropomorphic verses. There are verses in Scripture that says God changed His mind or that God experiences regret (such as the flood in Gen. 8:21). Boyd makes the case that these verses are literal and that God actually did something wrong or that He did change His mind. William Lane Craig, defender of the middle-knowledge view, lands some heavy blows on this literal view on Scripture.
“First, a consistent application of Boyd’s hermeneutic leads to a defective concept of God. It is striking how similar Boyd’s literalistic hermeneutic is to that of Mormon theologians, who employ it to justify their belief in a God who is not only ignorant of future contingents but is a physical being with a human form. Like Boyd, the Mormon theologian insists on taking the biblical descriptions of God at face value. “Look here” he says, ‘the Scripture says that God was walking in the cool of the garden. Walking necessitates having legs. God says He has eyes and ears and arms and hands. If God can’t convince us by explicitly saying that He can and does have bodily parts, how could He convince us if He wanted to?’ It is difficult to see how one can adopt Boyd’s naïve literalism with respect to divine knowledge and yet reject it with respect to divine corporeality” (58).
Craig goes on and says that the “flaw of this hermeneutic is its failure to appreciate that the Bible is not a textbook in systematic theology or philosophy of religion but that it is largely a collection of stories about God’s dealings with men. These stories are told from the human perspective and evince all the liveliness of the storyteller’s art” (59). Boyd’s hermeneutic applied to the verses that he wants it applied to is a horrible literalistic approach to the text. Boyd applies it to only the verses that support his view and not to the ones that say God has arms or legs.
Another problem with the open-theism view is that it tries to answer the problem of evil and human freedom in a wrong way. Boyd supposes that if God knows everything fully then God would be responsible for all the moral evils and natural evils in the world. The problem of the omniscient bystander would come into play here. If God knows everything then He is a bystander to all the evils. But this is not necessary to solve this problem as others who hold to the classical view of foreknowledge have solved the problem of evil. (See Alvin Plantinga’s Free Will Defense)
The ontological argument can act as an argument against the open-view. The ontological argument states that God is the greatest Being. That being said, is the God of the open-view that great? It seems like His power and knowledge is limited and undermined. But God can be conceived as being even greater than that and thus would destroy the open-view’s interpretation of God.
Lastly, the open-theism view tries to shift the debate over the doctrine of creation rather than foreknowledge. This is an utter red herring. The book which Boyd is writing for is about foreknowledge and God not about creation and God. Although this objection is terrible it still has a defeater. It is true that past, present, and future are separate parts of time. This means that the past does not exist anymore and the future does not exist only the present exists (See A-Theory of Time). But if before creation God is atemporal is it not possible that God can know all aspects and truths about time whether they exist or not? Boyd does not answer this question it seems.
Open-theism does more harm to Scripture and the doctrine of God. It seems to create more problems for the theist than to answer the objections directed towards God. Christians should reject this view entirely and not fall for its supposed rescue from the problem of evil.
Beilby, James K., and Paul R. Eddy. Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2001. Print.
“Process Theism.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web. 13 Mar. 2010. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/process-theism/>.