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The Open-ness of God

Category Articles
Date August 21, 2003

This new movement has forged yet another idol out of the warped imagination of man, for it posits a god who neither fore-knows the future nor fore-ordains it

by John M. Brentnall

Professor Watt of Belfast used to say that the Reformation took place without the help of Arminianism, and that when it eventually entered the Church it did so as a troubler. How true! Its infiltration into Reformed churches, besides its influence among other religious bodies outside them, has caused untold damage.

At its root lies a fatal flaw in its view of the character of God. By emphasising the love of God at the expense of His holiness, justice and sovereignty, it has both deceived millions of souls as to their salvation and robbed God of much of His glory.

Just recently Arminianism has spawned a movement which embarrases even Arminians by its distortion of the character of God. This movement is known as the ‘Open Theism’ or ‘Open-ness of God’ school. We feel constrained to examine its claims in the light of Scripture because its exponents are professing evangelicals who claim to be faithful to Scripture.

At the heart of the ‘Open-ness of God’ theory is a new model of God in relation to His providence. While its leading notions stem from classic Arminianism, which stresses the free will of man to respond to God either for or against Him, it departs radically from classic Arminianism in claiming that the future is unknown to God. This is because the future is unknowable. Since it has not yet happened it simply cannot be known, even by God. The theory is thus based (let us face it squarely) on the alleged ignorance of God and freedom of man. How can man be free, it is argued, if God knows already precisely what choices he will make? Consequently, because God is open to the future as man is, He learns from what happens in providence, responds to what happens, and plans for the future based on what He knows of the past and the present. Being ignorant of the future, God is truly open to new ideas and developments. This being so, we humans are to co-operate with Him in shaping the future.

It is in this ‘light’ that the members of the ‘Open-ness of God’ school – Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, John Sanders, William Hasker and David Basinger – interpret such Biblical events as the Fall (Gen 3), the intended sacrifice by Abraham of Isaac (Gen 22), the Golden Calf episode (Exod 32) and the Crucifixion. According to them God was surprised that Adam and Eve made such a rash decision as to disobey Him. Furthermore, He discovered for the first time that He could trust Abraham to obey Him. Before the patriarch proved his obedience by raising his arm to sacrifice his son, God ‘did not know’ whether Abraham would obey or not. ‘Now He knows.’ Not only that, God changed His mind and decided not to destroy idolatrous Israel after Moses had interceded for them. Finally, both Father and Son came to understand in Gethsemane (and not before) that there was no other way for Jesus but the cross. Many such things appear in the group’s symposium: ‘The Open-ness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God.’

Is this the God of the Bible? We think not, for the following reasons:

1. Holy Scripture expressly reveals God as the One who knows all things – past, present and future. ‘All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.’ (Heb 4.13). ‘God … knoweth all things.’ (1 John 3.20). ‘Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee.’ (Jer 1.5). ‘Now I tell you before it come, that when it is come to pass, ye may believe that l am He.’ (John 13.19). And so the believer can pray: ‘My times are in Thy hand.’ (Psa 31.15). ‘Into Thine hand I commit my spirit.’ (Psa 31.5).

With reference to the afore-mentioned events, Wilhelmus a Brakel rightly says: ‘From God’s perspective … everything is an absolute certainty’, even when it is unknown to us. Man’s free agency ‘does not contradict the certain fore-knowledge of God.’ By a truly incomprehensible concurrence, we do what God surely knows (and has certainly decreed) we shall do. As Charles Hodge says: ‘The distinction between knowledge and foreknowledge is only in us. There is no such difference in God.’ ‘Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world.’ (Acts 15.18).

2. Every passage of Scripture in which God seems to be ignorant of the future, so that He is said to ‘come down’ or wait to see what will happen, is to be viewed as an accommodation to our time-restricted limitations. God often speaks in the manner of men, but this is only to make us aware that He knows everything about us. He knows us from all eternity. Such knowledge is too wonderful for us. Rather than try to bring it down to the level of our ignorance, we should worship and adore Him for it.

3. Unless God knows the future as well as the past and present, all prophecy is nothing but guess-work. But did God guess that Christ would be born of a virgin, in Bethlehem, when Judah would cease to produce an earthly king? (Isa 7.14; Mic 5.2; Gen 49.10). Did God guess that His Son would end His earthly ministry pierced in His hands and feet, that He would rise from the dead and reign till all His enemies would lick the dust before Him? (Psa 22.16; Psa 16.10; Psa 72.9). The thought is blasphemous. God knew all along everything about His Son, for He is omniscient.

4. If God is ignorant of the future, all prayer to Him concerning it is useless. Yet He expressly commands us: ‘Ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence, and give Him no rest, till He establish, and till He make Jerusalem a praise in the earth.’ (Isa 62.6-7). Why plead with Him at all if He is not in absolute control of the future, as He has been in control of the past and is in control of the present? Why ask Him for guidance, protection or provision, if He is as ignorant of the future as we are?

This new movement has forged yet another idol out of the warped imagination of man, for it posits a god who neither fore-knows the future nor fore-ordains it. Such a god does not exist. Well did John Calvin say that man’s heart is an ‘idol factory.’

Classic Arminianism at least believes in One who fore-knows the future, even though it erroneously claims that He fore-ordains it only insofar as He knows what man will do.

By contrast, classic Calvinism worships the God who both fore-knows and fore-ordains whatever comes to pass, according to the wise and holy counsel of His inviolable will. And so we may sing with Joseph Hart:

How good is the God we adore,
Our faithful, unchangeable Friend!
His love is as great as His power,
And knows neither measure nor end.
‘Tis Jesus, the First and the Last,
Whose Spirit shall guide us safe home;
We’ll praise Him for all that is past,
And trust Him for all that’s to come.

John M. Brentnall

Peace and Truth 2002:3 The magazine of the Sovereign Grace Union: www.sgu.org.uk

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