Open Theism

Some ideas common in Calvinism and Reformed theology, such as God’s omnipotence and omniscience, can be traced directly back to ideas of Ancient Greek philosophy. Classical theism states that God is immutable, impassible, and timeless, and fully determines the future. One implication of this is that humans can not have true free-will, otherwise God could not be totally in control.

Open theism, or free-will theism, begining from certain Arminian ideas, tries to explain the relationship between human free will and the sovereignty of God. In the words of one of its key advocates, Dr. John E. Sanders:

That God changes in some respects implies that God is temporal, working with us in time. God, at least since Creation, experiences duration. God is everlasting through time rather than timelessly eternal… We believe that God could have known every event of the future had God decided to create a fully determined universe. However, in our view, God decided to create beings with interdeterministic freedom which implies that God chose to create a universe in which the future is not entirely knowable, even for God. For many open theists, the ‘future’ is not a present reality – it does not exist – and God knows reality as it is. (From the Open Theism Information Site).

Open theism allows for God to be influenced through prayer, decisions, and actions of people. As I once heard Dr. Clark Pinnock say in a lecture: “God does not know everything that will happen, because there are still some things that he and I have not decided yet.” If we take seriously the idea that God wants to partner with humans in the creation of his Kingdom on earth, then some such conclusion would seem to be inevitable.

The term “open theism” was coined in 1980 by Seventh-day Adventist theologian Richard Rice in his book The openness of God: The relationship of divine foreknowledge and human free will (Horizon), and expanded more fully in 1994 by Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, John Sanders, William Hasker and David Basinger in The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God.

God’s knowledge of the future can still be perfect, but will sometimes comprise a knowledge of possibilities rather than certainties. He knows and ordains some future certainties, and all future possibilities, including the possible free will choices of humans. In this way the major paradox of Calvinism, predestination, can be nullified in a way that is truer to the Bible and requires less of the philosophical contortions needed to make a system like Calvinism work.




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