The Dangers of Open Theism
by Tim Chaffey
Open theism is growing in popularity among evangelical Christians. In an effort to make God more appealing to our society men like Greg Boyd, Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, and John Sanders have promoted a God who “does not know every detail about what will come to pass…[T]he future is, to some degree at least, open ended and God knows it as such.” Is this a biblical view of God? Have these well-intentioned men simply misinterpreted some biblical passages? Or is it much more sinister? Is open theism heretical?
Before we answer those questions, let’s take a look at why these men (and others) are promoting this view. Greg Boyd is perhaps the best known of these men and has been the most successful in communicating “Openness Theology” to the church. In 1992, Boyd published Letters From a Skeptic, a book in which he sought to convince his unbelieving father that the Bible was rationally and intellectually viable. This book provides tremendous insight into the motivation behind open theism (at least from Boyd’s perspective). It becomes abundantly clear that Boyd is trying to do away with the image of a God of anger, judgment, and wrath by promoting a God of love, peace, and mercy. The Bible is clear that God is all of these things and more. There is no contradiction in declaring God’s wrath and judgment while at the same time affirming His love and mercy. In fact, perfect love requires perfect justice.
Another contributing factor seems to be an overreaction to the Calvinist’s view of God’s sovereignty. Some Calvinists express the concept of God’s sovereignty in such a way to make it seem that humans have absolutely no will of their own. Rather than accepting both biblical teachings of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will, many Christians have gravitated to one extreme or the other. Those on the extreme end of Calvinism are often called “hyper-Calvinists” and it could be appropriate to label open theists as “hyper-Arminians.” This is due to their over-emphasis on God’s love at the expense of His justice and wrath. In the same way, we believe the “hyper-Calvinist” overemphasizes God’s sovereignty at the expense of His love and mercy. We will focus on the Calvinist v. Arminian debate in an article in the near future.
Richard L. Mayhue wrote an excellent critique of Greg Boyd’s God of the Possible. Since Boyd is at the forefront of open theism, Mayhue’s essay summarizes the theological errors of the entire movement. In “The Impossibility of God of the Possible” Mayhue lists eight reasons why Boyd and open theism fails:
1) The history of orthodox Christian doctrine declares against, not for, Boyd’s position.
2) God of the Possible depends upon philosophy, not theology, to prove its point.
3) This volume deifies man and humanizes God.
4) Boyd discards the unknown, mysterious dimensions of God in his discussions.
5) The book is built with an aberrant methodology.
6) God of the Possible dismisses the literary device of anthropopathism (ascribing human emotions and feelings to God).
7) Boyd’s position diminishes the Almighty’s deity.
8) The author downplays determinative biblical texts.
Mayhue goes on to support each of these claims and shows why “[t]hese alone dismiss God of the Possible as impossible for evangelicals to embrace as a true biblical representation of Almighty God.”
Unfortunately, open theism is gaining popularity, thanks in large part to Christianity Today and the Evangelical Theological Society. Christians need to “test all things [and] hold fast [to] what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5: 21). Open theism must be compared to the Word of God to see whether or not it can pass the test.
The Apostle Paul warned believers not to be deceived by philosophy (Colossians 2: 8). Unfortunately, Boyd and his openness colleagues have slipped into grave error by basing their thinking on man’s wisdom (philosophy) rather than God’s Word. I am not completely against philosophy but the Christian must always allow God’s Word to correct his/her philosophy rather than vice versa. Since philosophy holds sway over theology for the open theist they are forced to reinterpret numerous passages of Scripture and major Christian doctrines to fit their ideas.
Perhaps the greatest theological error of open theists is their low view of God’s omniscience. While claiming to affirm God’s omniscience, open theists claim that God does not know everything about the future because the future is not there to know yet. Boyd stated, “But to assume He knows ahead of time how every person is going to freely act assumes that each person’s free activity is already there to know – even before he freely does it! But it’s not.” One may wish to pass this off as a matter of semantics but it is far more serious than that.
To the open theist, God is limited by time. The Bible teaches that God created time: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1: 1). It could only have been “the beginning” if time started at that point. Einstein’s theory of relativity also posits that time is a physical property of our universe. If there were no matter, there would be no time. Since there is matter then there is time.
Open theists often construct a straw man to knock down at this point. They claim that God cannot look down the passages of time to see what an individual will freely choose to do. This straw man betrays their misunderstanding of God’s nature. God is not “in time” as we are. He transcends time. He is not part of His creation like the pantheist declares. He is outside of it (transcendent) but can intervene when and where He chooses. Since God is not physically bound to the universe, He is not affected by time. As such, God does not need to “look down the passages of time” to see the future. He sees the entire timeline at the same moment.
To understand this concept, consider the parade analogy. Imagine you are attending your town’s Fourth of July parade. You stand on the sidewalk and watch the entire procession go by. You see the beginning, then you see the middle, and finally you see the end of the parade. From your point of view, the parade was linear. The same is true with our understanding of time. It is linear. We pass from one point in time (now) to another (future), then another, and so on. This is not true for God. Go back to the parade. Now imagine you are in a helicopter hovering over the parade. You see the beginning, middle, and end all at the same time. This is how God sees time. He does not need to wait to see what we will do in the future. He sees the entire timeline now.
God has staked His reputation on His ability to tell the future. In Isaiah 44 – 48 God proves to Israel that He is the only true God. Throughout this passage He refers to His ability to prophesy with one hundred percent accuracy. “I have declared the former things from the beginning…” (Isaiah 48: 3). The book of Revelation is almost entirely about future events; many of which will be fulfilled at least 1,900 years after they were first declared. If we serve a “God who risks” then He is extremely lucky at guessing the future. No, God does not take any risk when He foretells the future. He does not need to. He has perfect knowledge of every single free choice made by every single free being. He “knows” what will take place in the future. He does not guess.
If Boyd and his fellow open theists are correct, it will be very easy for Satan to make God a liar. When the “man of sin” (Antichrist) comes on the scene Satan could inspire him to act contrary to what Revelation says about him. Rather than beheading those who refuse to worship him and receive his mark (Revelation 20: 4), Antichrist could put them in the electric chair. This would nullify biblical prophecy and in turn, make God into a liar.
The open theist usually responds by saying that God knows some future events, just not all of them. He will bring certain events to pass but leave the other events up to the individuals to whom He has bestowed the ability to choose. In other words, certain events are predestined. They have to happen because God said they would but to accomplish these things God will have to override the free will of certain individuals.
Here is the ultimate dilemma for the open theist. Their entire theology is based on man’s free will as opposed to the hyper-Calvinist’s view of predestination. Yet at the same time, they affirm the exact same thing they wish to get away from; namely, that God will force or coerce certain individuals to do what He wants [i.e. Antichrist will persecute true believers and Jews]. This fact alone destroys the viability of open theism since it is founded on a hopeless self-contradiction.
Open theism creates other problems as well. A person’s view of God is extremely important. After all, if one misses the mark on the person and/or work of God, the rest of his theology will likely be askew. Robert Brow, a staunch supporter of open theology, wrote an article in Christianity Today in which he proposed “new explanations for biblical concepts such as divine wrath, God’s righteousness, judgment, the atonement – and just about every aspect of evangelical theology.” If this wasn’t bad enough ponder the following statement by Brow: “‘the cross was not a judicial payment,’ but merely a visible, space-time expression of how Christ has always suffered because of our sin.” This is a classic example of how a warped view of God distorts the rest of one’s doctrines.
We would all benefit from Paul’s exhortation to the young evangelist Timothy.
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness…But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2: 15 – 16, 23 – 26).
This passage instructs Christians to avoid foolish disputes. Unfortunately, far too many Christians have been led to believe that this exhortation means that we should not ever attempt to debate or correct those who are in error. However, this is not the case for Paul told Timothy to humbly correct those who are in error. This critique of open theism is offered in that spirit. It is not meant to attack the character or faith of any open theist but is designed to show them the error of their thinking so that they may “escape the snare of the devil.”
 Greg Boyd, God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2000) p. 8.
 When we use the term “overemphasize” here we do not mean to imply that God is not sovereign. We believe He is sovereign over all things. The “hyper-Calvinist” seems to focus only on God’s sovereignty [i.e. God can do whatever He wants to do with and to man.] They should balance this with God’s other attributes [i.e. Since God is sovereign and omnibenevolent (all-loving) then He will only do with and to man what is in line with His nature to do.]
 Mayhue is Senior Vice President and Professor of Pastoral Ministries and Theology at The Master’s Seminary.
 This article is available in .PDF format for free at http://www.tms.edu/tmsj/tmsj12h.pdf The entire journal (Volume 12, Number 2) is devoted to critiquing open theism and is available for download at http://www.tms.edu/tmsj01.asp.
 Richard L. Mayhue, “The Impossibility of God of the Possible,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 12/2 (2001): 203.
 We do not base our doctrine on church history but on the Bible. However, one would be wise to study church history so that he is not constantly trying to “reinvent the wheel.” Since open theism cannot be found in church history [Socinus was a heretic who held a similar view to Boyd’s] open theists should be extremely careful in what they believe. In other words, if no Christian has come to this conclusion after nearly 2,000 years, what makes open theists believe they have finally reached the truth?
 Mayhue, 207.
 CT has published several articles portraying open theism in a positive light (it has also published some critiques). The ETS has refused to take a stand against Pinnock and Rice causing some well known members to resign, including Norman L. Geisler, a former president of the ETS.
 Robert L. Thomas, “The Hermeneutics of Open Theism,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 12/2 (2001): 179 – 202. Available for free download at www.tms.edu/tmsj/tmsj12i.pdf
 Open theists would likely object to this statement; however, based on their writings and lectures it is painfully obvious that this statement is accurate.
 Gregory A. Boyd, Letters From a Skeptic (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1992) p. 30.
 God Himself established the rules for prophecy. If a prophecy ever failed then the prophet was to be considered a fake (Deut. 18: 20 – 22).
 Of course, this is from a premillennialist’s perspective. It seems that many open theists are preterists. However, this does not solve the problem for them since hundreds of Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in the New Testament. Each of these required the free decisions of individuals. This brings up the same problem for the open theist, either God forced these individuals to do what He said they would do [Antiochus Ephiphanes’ persecution of the Jews described in Daniel 11: 30 – 34] or He knew ahead of time what these people would freely do. It is clearly incredible to believe that God was lucky enough to predict the scores of intricate prophecies found in the book of Daniel.
 This is not to say that every open theist believes in the wrong God. We do not question Boyd’s or any other open theist’s faith in Christ and His work on the cross. However, we believe the next generation will reap the consequences of this aberrant theology.
 Robert Brow, “Evangelical Megashift” Christianity Today (19 Feb 1990): 12 – 14 cited in John MacArthur, “Open Theism’s Attack on the Atonement” The Master’s Seminary Journal 12/2 (2001): 3.
 Ibid., p. 14.
 It seems the devil has two purposes toward people: 1) keep unbelievers from hearing and/or believing the Gospel message and 2) make believers ineffective through his various wiles – his favorite seems to be poor theology.
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