I have posted before on the subject of Open Theism, a subject altogether controversial for reasons that defy my own ability to comprehend. But I will leave that subject alone for the moment. Rather, I want to begin by addressing why Open Theism is, simply stated, wrong. Open Theists claim the Bible pictures God as knowing the future as containing both certainties and potentialities. What determines whether God’s knowledge of the future is certain or possible is the degree to which God must manipulate the future to make it certain. Open Theists aver that God will not manipulate human freewill in order to bring about what he foreknows. This is what makes this line of thinking an -ism; it creates a systematic approach to the way we understand God’s interactions with the world. As with most systems related to God, the system eventually runs up against the biblical text. Take, for example, this text from Genesis:
As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your ancestors in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
This is a fairly specific proclamation by YHWH that suggests human sin will be fundamental to the working out of this declaration. This is not a contingent plan, as indicated by YHWH’s words, “Know this for certain.” Now, we could get into the discussion as to whether or not this is a text that is written after the fact and reflecting back on Israel’s history, but that discussion is irrelevant. We are concerned not just with what God is presenting, but how God himself is being presented. He knows this because he declares it to Abram. If this text wasn’t problematic enough, we then find that YHWH uses Pharaoh as his pawn to make this happen, hardening his heart several times and even stating before Moses ever confronts Pharaoh that he will do so:
And the LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.'”
It is characteristic of many opponents of Open Theism to point out the rough edges of their system and then act as if this both undermines the entire Open Theistic project and undergirds their own -ism (Calvinism, Arminianism, etc.). If Open Theism is wrong, its opponents are wrong-er. Open Theism is essentially a knee-jerk reaction to traditional theistic systems that run roughshod over the biblical text. They identify a significant number of passages that lie on the extremities of the biblical witness and attempt to use those to develop an alternative theistic system. Simply put, Open Theists rely upon one cache of biblical texts while its opponents rely upon a different cache, and together they share a number of ambiguous passages sympathetic to either view (e.g. Is 46:8-11). As proof that other -ism’s are no better off than Open Theism, consider Joseph’s dream and Jacob’s interpretation:
Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?”
It is interesting to observe that at this point in the narrative, Joseph has 10 brothers, not eleven. We know, however, that when this dream is realized, Benjamin will be born and will serve as the eleventh brother who bows down before Joseph. Perhaps this demonstrates divine foresight, but it immediately poses a problem. Rachel, Joseph’s mother (a.k.a. the moon), dies while giving birth to Benjamin (Gen 35:16-19). It is remarkable that the very thing that makes possible the fulfillment of Joseph’s dream (the birth of the eleventh son) simultaneously renders that dream incapable of being fulfilled (the death of Joseph’s mother). What can account for this most difficult text? Our present systems simply fall short.
Insofar as the argument is limited to the position that, for God, the future contains both certainties and possibilities, Open Theism is on the right track. And yet, the system set up by Open Theism is following the well worn path of creating a system too exclusive to accommodate the entire biblical witness. But this criticism implies the insufficiency of older models built on determinism or simple foreknowledge. And therefore, while Open Theism is wrong, its errors only further condemn the position of its opponents.