Open Theism and the God of Isaiah
The low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us.1
One of the most pressing and pertinent issues being discussed in the field of evangelical Christian theology is, alarmingly enough, within the realm of Theology Proper. Over the past 20 years a system of thought known as open theism has developed and grown, and is currently attempting to carve for itself a place in the market of mainstream evangelicalism. As Clark Pinnock has put it, “We want to think of these things (Calvinism, Openness, Arminianism, etc.) as different models . . . we need to talk to each other and learn from each other.”2
But what is the openness view? Is it a faithful presentation of the God of the Bible? The aim of this paper will be to answer these two questions. Firstly, we will examine the claims of open theism with particular attention to those areas where it radically departs from classical theism3in its understanding of God.4Secondly, we will examine these tenets of open theism in light ofIsaiah 40-48 in particular to see if open theism can indeed bereferred to as “biblical.”5Either classical theism or open theism can found correct, since—atleast on the issues to be presented—they are diametrically opposed. It must, of course, be taken into account that humans, asfinite beings cannot fully comprehend God’s character ornature.6That being said, we must seek to understand him as he has revealedhimself in human words, trusting that his revelation is sufficientfor all that he desires for us to understand of him.7 His revelation, then, must be our standard.8
II. Overview of the Open View of God
Open theism is radically opposed to classical theism with regard to the nature of God’s omniscience and his ability (and desire!) to change his mind. That being the case, the views openness
theologians hold in regards to these two main categories of discussion must be examined.
That God’s knowledge of the future is not exhaustive is defended on several levels. God does not know the future exhaustively, firstly, because he does not actually exist outside of time—nor is he transcendent of time—but in fact, he experiences time just as humans do. Openness theologians have “set forth for the first time a sustained, biblically based, rational argument that the God of the Bible is with us in time and does not know the future in absolute detail.”9
Clark Pinnock agrees with this assessment and even takes the position one step further, noting that creation itself was “an act of self-limitation,” wherein God allows himself to be affected by the created world. 10 For God to be genuinely affected, he must be experiencing time, just as humans do.11
Pinnock continues, giving a thorough explanation of how the proponents of the openness theology view God’s relation to time:
As regards time, God’s relation is temporal and not totally different from ours. He too operates from within time . . . he still relates to us from within the structures of time. . . . The past is past and God remembers it; the future is future and God anticipates it. God is not thought of in terms of timelessness, whatever that means. At least since creation, the divine life has been temporally ordered. God is inside not outside time. He is involved in the thick of, and is not above, the flow of history.12
To strikingly change the parade analogy, “God is always walking beside us, experiencing what we are experiencing when we are experiencing it.”13 It is clear to these scholars that the real issue is not the ability of God to transcend time, but that he desires to have genuine relationship with humans. With this end in mind, it is concluded that God could perfectly control all of the future “if he wanted to, but voluntarily enters into a free, loving, reciprocal relationship with his creatures.”14
That God experiences time just as humans do is not the only way it may be shown that he does not know the future exhaustively. It is also true that God cannot know the future absolutely, since it does not yet even exist in order to be known. Rather, as Boyd states, “the future is partly open to possibilities, and since God is omniscient and knows all of reality just like it is, he knows the future as being partly open to possibilities.”15
Thus, it must be established that the future exists partly as certainties, but mostly as possibilities, and that God’s omniscience must be redefined. Basinger sums up succinctly:
But since we believe that God can know only what can be known and that what humans will freely do in the future cannot be known beforehand, we believe that God can never know with certainty what will happen in any context involving freedom of choice.16
God’s omniscience, then, is defined as simply knowing all that there is to know, according to open theists. Boyd defends this definition, saying that “If God does not foreknow future free actions, it is not because his knowledge of the future is in any sense incomplete. It’s because there is, in this view, nothing definite there for God to know!”17 Since the future is brought into existence by the actions of free-will beings, God does not know the future exhaustively. It is simply philosophically untenable to hold that man is free if the future is already foreknown.18
Olson explains that reality is created partly by humans, saying, “History is the combined result of what God and his creatures decide to do.”19 This position is also held by Boyd, who says that “future free actions do not exist (except as possibilities) for God to know until free agents make them.”20 Sanders describes humans as partners with God in shaping and bringing about the future—that is, determining what will be reality.21 As reality has not yet been determined, how could God know it? Thus it is presented that God does not know the future exhaustively. This opens the door for God—who is not timeless, but responsive—to change his mind.
It is held that God’s mind may be changed by the prayers of human beings. Sanders uses a discussion on Moses’ prayers on Mount Sinai to show that God can—and indeed does—change his mind.22 He says that “in response to Moses’ complaint, God again changes his mind and says that his ‘face’ will go with the people—God returns to plan A.”23
In drawing out the differences in how open theists and classical theists view God responding to prayer, Basinger points out that since open theists deny that God can unilaterally control human decision-making that is truly voluntary but affirm that God can unilaterally intervene in earthly affairs, it does become possible for us to maintain justifiably that petitionary prayer is efficacious in this sense—that is, to maintain justifiably that divine activity is at times dependent on our freely offered petitions.24 Put another way, God can and does act through and because of human prayers. How God acts is even dependent on the prayers of humans. The relationship of man with God is described as “give and take” and open theism is even esteemed above classical theism because it points out the truth that our future depends on prayer.25
In writing on the importance of our ability to change God’s mind, Boyd even goes so far as to argue that “there can be no authentic personhood without some element of say-so, some degree of self-determination, some authentic power to influence things.”26 Since God is in relationship with man “there is simply no reason to interpret language about changeable aspects of God less literally than language about unchangeable aspects of God.”27
Rather, it must be seen that God does acknowledge his “special relationship” with the person praying and is willing to change to accommodate their wishes.28 Following from the logic that God does not know the future exhaustively and is able to change his mind, comes the conclusion that God—like humans—can be wrong. This is a major point of separation between classical and open theists. Sanders points out that at times, “God himself says that he was mistaken about what was going to happen.”29 He also points to several occasions in the lives of Moses and Jeremiah where God was mistaken in predicting how people would respond to his words and warnings.30
It has again been pointed out that “some of God’s desires may go unfulfilled—which is what Scripture says at many points.”31 In Most Moved Mover, Pinnock also makes it clear that God may be proven wrong by the way events transpire. He even points out that some of Jesus’ prophecies were not fulfilled as he said they would be. Pinnock goes so far as to say that God is free in the manner of fulfilling prophecy and is not bound to a script, even his own. The world is a project and God works on it
creatively; he is free to strike out in new directions. We cannot pin the free God down.32
Boyd affirms Pinnock’s conclusion that God is not bound to fulfill his word—even after a prophecy—when he says that our prayer carries influence “to the point that [God] reverses his own plans.” Again, “God binds himself to this arrangement, even abandoning plans he’d rather carry out because people didn’t pray.”33
Basinger accepts the logical outworking of these positions and draws the conclusion that humans cannot even trust God for divine guidance. Since he is just as much in the dark as humans are about the long-term development of the future, we should trust our own decisions and only turn to God for things with immediate results, that he will be able to predict more accurately.34
The classical view of God holds that he knows the future exhaustively. The open view of God presents the picture of a God who does not know the future exhaustively. Classical theists maintain that God can not, will not, and should not change his mind or be proven wrong. Open theists, however, hold that God loves his people enough to change his mind and suffer along with them in time. Open
theists hold that the narratives (of Genesis and Exodus especially) are hermeneutically central to developing the proper biblical picture of God.35
Williams, however, shows that even according to Sanders’s methods of hermeneutics, the prophets should help us to interpret the narratives, not the other way around. He asks rhetorically:
Is not the impact of a canonically sequential reading to create in us a sense that the prophets, especially the major ones, present to us informed reflection on and understanding of the nature, ways, and purposes of God, Israel, and the peoples as they have been narrated to us in the preceding historical books?36
That being understood, the focus of this paper will now shift to examine the different views held by these positions in light of the prophet Isaiah’s writing. More specifically, chapters 40-48
will be used to determine whether the classical view or the open view is correct.
III. Isaiah is Closed to Open Theism
With such divergent perspectives in existence, can it really be possible to come up with one “best” answer”? In the view of this author it is. Although postmodern biases have allowed open theists to “feel free to read parts of [the Bible] in ways that are deliberately set over against other parts of the Bible,”37 this is not the ideal. As Carson says,
Christians who have a high view of Scripture, a commitment to truth because they serve a God who knows all truth perfectly, and who recognize that although in our finiteness and sinfulness we may not know truth absolutely or perfectly but nevertheless truly, will not want to go down such paths.38
Although no perfect answer may be reached in this fallen, finite world, it is still beneficial to strive after the most accurate solution that may be found, using the Word of God as our guiding light. Isaiah 40-48 will now be brought to bear on the different issues discussed thus far in the paper.
It is claimed by open theists that the God of the classical theist is an “aloof monarch” who does not genuinely care for his people, but simply manipulates humans to accomplish his purposes. It is against this removed, calloused God that open theists are reacting.39 In their treatment of Isaiah 40-48, however, classical theists do not see God as “removed” or “calloused” at all.
Commenting on Isaiah 40:1-2, Herbert Wolf points out how the double imperative used in verse one is a stylistic device used elsewhere in the book that “expresses the urgent need that the people felt for comfort,” and leads into several promises of how God would indeed comfort his people.40 E.J. Young notes that “the repetition serves to bring to the fore the great significance of the command and the fullness and richness of the comfort offered.”41 He also regards the use of the phrases “my people” and “your God” as important in recognizing the tenderness of God towards his people in this passage.42
In reference to 41:10, Wolf reminds the reader that “no one can separate us from the One who takes hold of our right hand, and because of that we need not fear and can ‘rejoice in the Lord.’”43 In his treatment of this verse, Young draws out the truth that Israel need not be afraid because God is with them. The three verbs used exhibit a gradation of the thought of what God will do to protect his people. God strengthens, helps, and upholds Israel when and how they need it: “Of all the peoples she is the richest.”44 These are definitely pictures of the God of the classical theist acting and relating with his people in an intimate, personal way, rather than as an “aloof monarch.”
Further analysis of chapters 40-48 allows us the insight that the concepts of a God who cares for his people and a God who is all-knowing and sovereign are not mutually exclusive. Rather, we see that even though God is caring and loving, he is still infinitely superior to anything that we have seen on this earth. Commenting on the whole section, Trevor Craigen says that “what so quickly emerges from the text is the total incomparability of Israel’s Lord and His eschatological purposes for the nations and Israel.”45
Wolf’s work is in line with Craigen’s when he comments that in chapter forty, “Isaiah gave a majestic description of the limitless power of the Holy One of Israel.” He explains:
With bold strokes Isaiah described the infinite power and wisdom of God (vv. 12-14). God is supreme over nature and controls the whole universe with effortless ease. No other being assisted Him in the creation or management of heaven and earth. God’s superiority also extends over the nations of the world. Compared with Him, their significance is infinitesimal. . . . Such fantastic power almost defies description, and verse 26 uses four different words to help convey God’s greatness.46
Clearly, Isaiah is writing repeatedly for emphasis of the greatness of God and his inherent superiority over all of his creation. God’s superiority, as it is shown by Isaiah also helps us to understand that God is not someone that a theologian can ever hope to have figured out.47
The open theist argument that classical theism is philosophically untenable falls flat, because God himself is inexplicable in human terms. Shall humans, who are collectively “less than nothing and emptiness” explain him? How could one possibly understand him whose “understanding is unsearchable?”
Not only does God’s superiority help us to see the faulty nature of openness theology, but God’s knowledge as it is described in Isaiah clearly leads us to reject open theism. Ware writes of 40:15-17,
Imagine this! The nations as a whole with all of their collective knowledge, wisdom, and insight, all taken together, constitute before God “a drop from a bucket,” or “a speck of dust on the scales.” How lofty we consider our great learning and wisdom, but how utterly insignificant it is before God. In contrast to the openness view of God taking into consideration what we think before he decides, the humbling truth is this: What we can contribute to God’s store of knowledge or wisdom is, in a word, nothing.48
Young also says that after making it clear that no human can act as God’s counsellor, Isaiah takes it to the next level by saying that “even nations, those powerful human entities that seem to be able to act according to their own will in human history, are really of no moment in the eyes of God.”49
Over and over again God’s knowledge is described to obviously include and imply foreknowledge of future things and people. Although openness authors argue that Isaiah 41:21-29 does not teach exhaustive divine omniscience,50 Ware makes it clear that in this passage, we see that “the true God knows and declares the future (including future free human actions) before it occurs, while those impostor rivals neither know nor declare any such thing.”51 Indeed, God’s ability to predict with absolute accuracy what will come to pass is used here as the distinctive quality that separates him from the idols of the land. Young notes that “the challenge here laid down to the idols is to predict the future. It is not enough that false religions engage in vague prophecies, which are not prophecies at all.”52
If God were to be limited to vague prophecies, or those which only may come true, as open theists suggest, then his prophecies are not prophecies at all and he is, in fact, not God at all! The challenge issued by God to the idols (which we should now be issued to the God of the open theist) was actually a test of deity.53 In bringing 42:8 and 42:9 together, Ware says, Yahweh as the only true 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.54 Thus it is developed that God’s claims to both glory and deity are both intimately tied with his ability to predict infallibly and control the future. This conclusion leaves absolutely no room to argue that Isaiah held to an open view of God.
Isaiah 40:6-8 shows that God has not only the knowledge of what will come to pass, but that he has promised and will accomplish it. God’s foreknowledge of those people and people-groups that he would use to accomplish his purpose is also shown to be exhaustive. Open theists insist that God’s desires and the future are brought about by the free actions of man in tandem with God’s working in their lives. These verses show otherwise, according to Matthew Henry: “The way of the Lord is prepared by confidence in the word of the Lord, and not in any creature.”55
The purpose of the promises from God, as given to man, are to show that “the word of the Lord is sure and what may be safely relied on.” It is for us to “build our hopes on that, with an assurance that it will not make us ashamed: in a dependence upon this word we must be brought to own that all flesh is grass, withering and fading.”56 Here God’s promises and purposes are contrasted with those of man. While man may change, fade and wither, God’s promises will not. But what if God were liable to change his mind? What if his prophecies could go unfulfilled as open theists have suggested? If this were to occur, it would not only be clearly contrary to these verses, but it would also destroy any assurance humans may have in any of his promises. If he can fail one time, can he not fail any time?
In the opinion of this writer, Pinnock is dead wrong: God can indeed be “pinned down” in this sense: What he has declared will stand—he is faithful and true to his word. 57 The case for open theism is crippled by the prophet’s message. In these chapters God is clearly shown to be in control of history as it will unfold. God’s control over both Israel and the nations is made plain as a theme throughout the sermons of Isaiah 40-48. This theme is nowhere clearer than in the prophecies made of Cyrus (44:28; 45:17). God predicts that he will use Cyrus (specifically, by name) approximately 200 years before he was even born, to rebuild Jerusalem. Ware does an excellent job of explaining just how many “free-will decisions” God would have had to control just to make sure this one prophecy would come true. He takes note of the vast array of attending circumstances—none of which have yet taken place, at the time the prophecy is first made: The fall of Assyria, the rise and fall of Babylon, the rise of Medo-Persia, the fall of Israel, the fall of Judah, the birth and naming of Cyrus, the life and growth of this particular king, his ongoing life into adulthood, his selection as king, his willingness to consider helping the Israelites, his decision to assist in rebuilding Jerusalem, and on and on. . . . Within each of these items is hidden a multitude of freewill choices that would affect everything about the outcome for that particular piece of human history.58
When seen in this manner, this is a remarkable prophecy of God even to the classical theist. To the open theist, however, it is extremely difficult to handle. How could God ordain and bring about with certainty such an event when it will involve so many free agents who will have their freedom imposed upon? And what about Cyrus himself? Did he have power to make a free choice to keep the people of Israel in his home land? Did his parents have libertarian freedom in naming him? The open theists would have to answer “yes,”59 but the text of Isaiah clearly indicates “no.” Open theists explain the prophecies in 46:10-11 by saying, “Of course God can predict his own actions.”60 This is in line with their own position that God can predict with certainty his own actions, but it ignores the fact that the prophecy itself is in reference to a free moral agent—Cyrus—and not just God. Since it refers to both the actions of Cyrus and the actions of God (and attributes to God the responsibility for both), it must be seen that God is actually at work in—and, in some sense, responsible for—both. This is just one example of how God is in sovereign control of all of history, for all people.
Using the tests of Isaiah, the “god” of the open theists more closely resembles the pagan idols than the all-sovereign, almighty Yahweh who reveals himself by proclaiming the end from the beginning, and from doing his sovereign good pleasure in and through all the nations. The historic Christian God, whose omniscience includes all things past, present, and future must still be preached as the one who alone works all things according to the counsel of his own good will, and whose mind will never be changed.
An error of this magnitude in the area of Theology Proper is disastrous, because it robs God of glory and results in wrong living and wrong worship. As Piper surmises, as I have wrestled with open theism in my own denomination, I have tried to articulate for the churches the reasons this defection from historic Christian teaching is so serious. As a pastor I see open theism as theologically ruinous, dishonoring to God, belittling to Christ, and pastorally hurtful.61 A.W. Tozer agrees, even adding to broadness to Piper’s statement:
A right conception of God is basic not only to systematic theology but to practical Christian living as well. It is to worship what the foundation is to the temple; where it is inadequate or out of plumb the whole structure must sooner or later collapse. I believe that there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God.62
Since our view of God effects the way we think about him, live for him, and preach him to others, it is absolutely essential that we let the Scriptures have exclusive reign in our hearts and minds when it comes to the formulation of Theology Proper. May God grant us the grace to pursue him with better and nobler thoughts—and then to live accordingly.
Barrick, William D. “The Openness of God: Does Prayer Change God?” The Master’s Seminary Journal 12 (2001): 149-166.
Boyd, Gregory A. God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God.Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000.
Boyd, Gregory A. “Is God Dependent On Us?” Interview conducted by Modern Reformation. Full text of interview published in November / December 1999 issue and available online at http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var1=ArtRead&var2=574&var3=main&var4=Home
Carson, D.A. The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000.
Craigen, Trevor C. “Isaiah 40-48: A Sermonic Challenge to Open Theism.” The Master’s Seminary Journal 12 (2001): 167-177.
Hall, Chris, and John Sanders. “Does God Know Your Next Move?” Christianity Today 45 (2001): 50-56.
Hasker, William. Providence, Evil, and the Openness of God. New York: Routledge, 2004.
Hasker, William. “The Openness of God.” Christian Scholar’s Review 28:1 (1998): 111-139.
Helseth, Paul Kjoss. “On Divine Ambivalence: Open Theism and the Problem of Particular Evils.” JETS 44 (2001): 493-512.
Highfield, Ron. “The Function of Divine Self-Limitation in Open Theism: Great Wall or Picket Fence?” JETS 45 (June 2002): 279-299.
Horton, Michael S. “Hellenistic or Hebrew? Open Theism and Reformed Theological Method.” JETS 45 (2002): 317-337.
Martin, Paul. “Open Theism: Making God in the Image of Man.” As presented to the Fellowship for Reformation and Pastoral Studies, February 18, 2001.
Mayhue, Richard L. “The Impossibility of God of the Possible.” The Master’s Seminary Journal 12 (2001): 203-220.
Olson, Roger, Douglas F. Kelly, Timothy George, and Alister McGrath. “Has God Been Held Hostage by Philosophy?” Christianity Today, last accessed on July 18, 2008: available from http://www.ctlibrary.com/14596
Pinnock, Clark H. “A Pilgrim On the Way,” Christianity Today, last accessed on July 18, 2008: available from http://www.ctlibrary.com/1519
Pinnock, Clark H. “Constrained by Love: Divine Self-Restraint according to Open Theism.” Perspectives in Religious Studies 34 (Summer 2007): 149-160.
Pinnock, Clark H. Most Moved Mover. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001.
Pinnock, Clark, Richard Rice, John Sanders, William Hasker, and David Basinger. The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God.Downers Grove: IVP, 1994.
Piper, John, Justin Taylor, and Paul Kjoss Helseth, eds. Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity. Wheaton: Crossway, 2003.
Sanders, John. The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence. Downers Grove: IVP, 1998.
Sanders, John, Clark Pinnock, Greg Boyd, William Hasker, Richard Rice, and David Basinger. “Truth at Risk,” Christianity Today, last accessed July 18, 2008: available from http://www.ctlibrary.com/6570
Schreiner, Thomas R., and Bruce A. Ware. Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000.
Tozer, A.W. The Knowledge of the Holy. New York: Harper and Row, 1961.
Ware, Bruce A. “Defining Evangelicalism’s Boundaries Theologically: Is Open Theism Evangelical?” JETS 45 (2002): 193-213.
Ware, Bruce A. God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism. Wheaton: Crossway, 2000.
Ware, Bruce A. “Is God Limited? A Reply from a Baptist with Reformed Convictions.” Perspectives in Religious Studies 34 (Summer 2007): 133-148.
Ware, Bruce A. Their God is Too Small. Wheaton: Crossway, 2003.
Wellum, Stephen J. “Divine Sovereignty-Omniscience, Inerrancy, and Open Theism: An Evaluation.” JETS 45 (June 2002): 257-277.
Wellum, Stephen J. “The Openness of God: A Critical Assessment.” Sovereign Grace Journal l4 (2001): 14-35.
Williams, Stephen N. “What God Doesn’t Know,” Books & Culture Christian Review, last accessed on July 18, 2008: available from http://www.ctlibrary.com/bc/1999/novdec/9b6016.html
Wolf, Herbert M. Interpreting Isaiah: The Suffering and Glory of the Messiah. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985.
Yancey, Philip. “Chess Master.” Christianity Today. May 2000. http://www.ctlibrary.com/ct/2000/may22/35.112.html (accessed July 17, 2008).
A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: Harper and Row, 1961), 6.
Paul Martin, “Open Theism: Making God in the Image of Man.” [http://www.gfcto.com/2006/05/open_theism.php]. Last accessed July 18, 2008. The quote was taken from an official phone interview with Clark Pinnock, conducted by the author.
For the purposes of clarity it must be established that the “classical” position, as it is here termed, refers to a “Reformed” or “Calvinistic” position.
That is, this paper addresses those aspects of an open view of God which are most clearly antonymous to the classical conception of God: namely, God’s absolute omniscience and his ability to change his mind.
This is clearly the desire of open theists, as evinced even by the titles of their books: God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God(by Gregory A. Boyd, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), and The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God(by Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, John Sanders, William Hasker, and David Basinger. Downers Grove: IVP, 1994).
Isaiah 55:8-9: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”
Against the charge that human language is not sufficient to describe the realities of God, we agree with the position of Vern S. Poythress (“Adequacy of Language and Accomodation,” in
Hermeneutics, Inerrancy, and the Bible, Earl D. Radmacher and Robert D. Preus, eds. [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984], 353-354): “On what basis are we to make judgments about adequacy and inadequacy … ? What could we mean by saying that human language is inadequate to talk about God … ? In what way is it ‘inadequate’? And what do we expect talk about God … to be like? Our expectations and definitions of ‘adequacy’ … are themselves shot through with values, with preferences, desires, standards, and perhaps disappointments at goals that we set but are not reached. Where do these values come from? If God is Lord, we ought to conform our values to his standards. Hence there is something intrinsically rebellious about negatively evaluating biblical language [for its adequacy as ‘God talk’]. … How does the objector obtain the necessary knowledge about God, truth, and cultures in order to make a judgment about the adequacy of language for expressing theology and truth, and for achieving cross-cultural communications? How does he do this when he himself is largely limited by the capabilities of his own language and culture?” Together with the given that God has chosen to reveal himself in the form of human language, we insist that whatever God has revealed to us, this is sufficient for us, and whatever remains hidden from us we must not pursue ad infinitum for the sake of curiosity or pride (Deut 29:29; Ps 131:1). See also A.B. Caneday, “Veiled Glory: God’s Self-Revelation in Human Likeness—A Biblical Theology of God’s Anthropomorphic Self-Disclosure” in John Piper, Justin Taylor, and Paul Kjoss Helseth, eds., Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity(Wheaton: Crossway, 2003), 149-200, and John Sanders, The God Who Risks (Downers Grove: IVP, 1998), 15-37.
As to why Isaiah 40-48 is chosen in particular, there are several reasons why it seems appropriate. First, given the scope and length of this paper, it is impossible to survey the whole of the Bible, so it seems good to choose one passage in particular. Second, some of the key passages open theists cite in defence of the open view are found in Isaiah (5:3-7; 38:1-5), where it is argued that the prophet portrays the future as open to change and not yet determined. Third, it is slightly ironic that many of the passages in the Scriptures which seem to most clearly refer to the future as completely settled are also found in Isaiah (44:28-45:1; 46:9-11; 48:3-5; 53:9). This then begs this question of which view best represents Isaiah’s understanding of God and the future. For the purposes of this paper it is presupposed by this author that the book of Isaiah was composed in its entirety by Isaiah, son of Amoz, the 8th century B.C. prophet (Cf. G. W. Grogan, “Isaiah,” in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary edited by F. E. Gæbelein [Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986]. Also, Herbert M. Wolf, Interpreting Isaiah: The Suffering and Glory of the Messiah [Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985], 27-38). For most of the paper this position is not relevant, however, in the discussion of the prophecy of Cyrus, it is important to recognize that this is the view being taken.
Roger Olson, “Has God Been Held Hostage by Philosophy?” Christianity Today, last accessed on July 18, 2008: available from http://www.ctlibrary.com/14596. Emphasis in original.
Clark H. Pinnock, Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness(Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 31.
For elaboration on the divine self-limitation of God in creation and other areas, see Clark H. Pinnock, “Constrained by Love: Divine Self-Restraint according to Open Theism.” Perspectives in Religious Studies34 (Summer 2007): 149-160.
Pinnock, Most Moved Mover, 32-33.
Olson, “Held Hostage?” The classical theist parade analogy being referred to is given by Millard Erickson (Introducing Christian Doctrine, 2d ed. [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2001], 95): “[God’s] transcendence over time has been likened to a person who sits on a tall building while he watches a parade. He sees all parts of the parade at the different points on the route rather than only what is going past him at the moment. He is aware of what is passing each point of the route. So God is aware of what is happening, has happened, and will happen at each point in time.”
Stephen N. Williams, “What God Doesn’t Know.” Books & Culture Christian Review, available online from http://www.ctlibrary.com/bc/1999/novdec/9b6016.html (last accessed July 18, 2008).
Gregory A. Boyd, “Is God Dependent On Us?” Interview conducted by Modern Reformation. Full text of interview published in November / December 1999 issue and available online at http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var1=ArtRead&var2=574&var3=main&var4=Home.
David Basinger, “Practical Implications,” in Clark Pinnock, et al., The Openness of God, 163.
Boyd, God of the Possible, 16. Emphasis in original. Or, as Pinnock (“Constrained by Love,” 149) puts it, “Would I be censured for not seeing the pink elephants in the room if there were not any?”
In this sense, it is acknowledged by both classical Calvinists and open theists that the openness view is, in some ways, consistent Arminianism. See Pinnock, Most Moved Mover, xii, 12.
Olson, “God Held Hostage?”
Boyd, God of the Possible, 120.
Sanders, The God Who Risks, 65.
Basinger, “Practical Implications,” 160.
Boyd, God of the Possible, 95.
Sanders, The God Who Risks, 65. One of the many errors with the position of openness theologians on prayer is that they seem to make no distinction between the prayers of the regenerate and the unregenerate. While they do view God’s people as those in covenantal trust and love relationship with God, having “say-so” and having power to influence things is bound up with being “authentically human,” not whether or not someone is regenerate. All prayers offered by humans are legitimate, since God desires to enter into relationship more than anything. Passages such as Proverbs 28:9 and Isaiah 1:15 must be brought to bear on the topic at hand.
Sanders, The God Who Risks, 74.
John Sanders, Clark Pinnock, Greg Boyd, William Hasker, Richard Rice, and David Basinger. “Truth at Risk,” Christianity Today, available from http://www.ctlibrary.com/6570 (last accessed on July 18, 2008).
Pinnock, Most, 51, n. 66. Interestingly enough, this logic seems to fly in the face of Pinnock’s own argument in “Constrained by Love.” There (151), Pinnock uses the notion that “the selection of any one action limits him to that action and not another.” In that context, he is using God’s self-limitation in this regard to prove that it is legitimate to see self-limitation in other areas. If we put these two arguments together, it appears to say something like this: “We cannot pin the free God down to fulfill his prophecies, except where he has chosen to limit himself—and these cases appear to not be given in Scripture (since even where he has prophesied, he is ‘free to strike out in new directions’); but since he has chosen to limit himself to some course of action that we cannot know, it justifies us seeing divine self-limitation in other areas as well” (namely, where Pinnock wants us to see them). This is double-speak at best.
Boyd, Possible, 97.
Basinger, “Practical Implications,” 163.
Williams, “What God Doesn’t Know.”
D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd ed., (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 130. The statement that postmodernism has influenced openness thought is loaded. In part, it is drawn from this passage of Carson’s work. It can be argued backwards that since they employ this particular fallacy (which itself is a result of postmodernism), they owe this argument to postmodern influences. It also must be acknowledged that this is one of the weaknesses of the openness position, that they do not take their own philosophical presuppositions into account. Open theists say that the majority view of God has listened more to the voice of Aristotle and Plato than Scripture, although, in The Openness of God, William Hasker spends 28 pages defending the open view from a philosophical standpoint. If philosophy has done the Church wrong in the past why is it good now? All the old philosophical positions are seen as bad because they are due to neo-platonic thought, whereas the openness view is better because it is based on “proper logic.” It must be concluded, however, from examining the assumptions made throughout openness writings that a postmodern mindset has been at the source of much of their thought. Surely Lewis’s charge of “Chronological snobbery” may well be levelled against openness theologians here. For more on the connection between the popularity of open theism and our current cultural context, see William C. Davis, “Why Open Theism is Flourishing Now” in Piper et al., Beyond the Bounds, 111-148. His theories also explain well why this notion of God is not well-attested or affirmed anywhere throughout the history of the church (John Sanders’s attempts [“Historical Considerations,” in The Openness of God, 59-100; The God Who Risks, 140-166; and “Who has held this view in history?” available online at http://www.opentheism.info/pages/questions/traq/tradition_02.php; last accessed on April 2, 2007] are found remarkably wanting). For more historical debate on the influence and role of philosophy and culture on the doctrine of God as it relates to classical vs. open theism, see Russell Fuller, “The Rabbis and the Claims of Openness Advocates,” and Chad Owen Brand, “Genetic Defects or Accidental Similarities? Orthodoxy and Open Theism and Their Connections to Western Philosophical Traditions,” in Piper, et al., Beyond the Bounds, 23-42, and 43-76 respectively.
Ibid. Carson is not saying here that openness theologians do not have a high view of Scripture. That Openness is subtitled A Biblical Challenge, and Possible is subtitled A Biblical Introductionshows the importance of Scripture in these authors’ writings. What he is saying, however, is simply that the exegesis done by these authors is quite inappropriate for those who claim to hold such a high view of Scripture.
Pinnock, Most Moved Mover, 26-35. This is a theme through the entire discussion on these pages. The exact phrase “aloof monarch” is not used here, but is somewhat of a rallying cry for open theists. It is used any time they seek to draw an emotional reaction against the God of the classical theist. They create a false dichotomy between their loving, caring, sensitive, suffering God and the classical God who does not understand or love, but is removed and distant. Essentially, classical theism seems to be presented as deism throughout the writings of openness theologians.
E.J. Young, The Book of Isaiah, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1965), 19.
Young, Isaiah, 85.
Trevor Craigen, “Isaiah 40-48: A Sermonic Challenge to Open Theism.” The Master’s Seminary Journal 12:2 (2001): 169.
This thought is later developed further in Isaiah 55:8-9.
Brauce A. Ware, God’s Lesser Glory (Wheaton: Crossway, 2000), 169.
Young, Isaiah, 47, emphasis added.
In Pinnock’s words, these verses simply teach “God’s power to affect the future by what he plans to do,” Most Moved Mover, 61, n. 86. Therefore, God can attempt to direct the future in the way he would like it to go, but he cannot know with certainty whether or not it will end up the way he desires. He does, after all, only know some things which are certainties in the future.
Ware, God’s Lesser Glory, 102. Emphasis original.
Young, Isaiah, 98.
Ware, God’s Lesser Glory, 103.
Ibid., 105, emphasis in original.
Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible.(United States: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1998), 1150.
Pinnock writes, “[God] is not bound to a script, even his own . . . he is free to strike out in new directions,” Most Moved Mover, 51, n. 66. Thus God’s “script” (i.e. his word) can come short of being true. The end is not yet determined or certain: “everything is not yet settled,” 51.
Ware, God’s Lesser Glory, 110.
After all, Cyrus would not have been a genuine human if he did not have at least some manner of “say-so” in how he acted out his life and how history was to unfold. Cf. Boyd, Possible, 96.
Richard Rice, “Biblical Support for a New Perspective” in Pinnock et al., The Openness of God, 51. Pinnock also refers to verse 11 in particular as simply stating God’s ability to know some aspects of the future. Most Moved Mover, 50.
John Piper, “Grounds for Dismay: The Error and Injury of Open Theism,” in Beyond the Bounds, 371.
Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy, 10.