Is it true you’re an “Open Theist” and that you don’t think God knows the future perfectly?

I am an “Open Theist” – though I honestly don’t care for the label, because as I’ll show, the uniqueness of this view isn’t in what it says about God but in what it says about the nature of reality. (I think it would be better to call us something like “Open Futurists.”)

In any event, I and other Open Theists absolutely affirm God’s “omniscience.” God knows all of reality perfectly, exactly as it is. Open Theists differ from traditional theists not in our understanding of the perfection of God’s knowledge but in our understanding of the reality that God perfectly knows. The difference comes down to this: we believe that the reality God perfectly knows includes possibilities. Since God gave us free will, we believe some of the future is left up for us to decide. We may freely choose one course of action or we may choose another. To this extent the future is “open.” We base this view primarily on Scripture, since the Bible consistently ascribes free will to people and often presents the future as partly open (see my book God of the Possible for a brief presentation of the scriptural portrayal of the future as partly open).

So, Open Theism does not in any way limit God’s knowledge. Precisely because God’s knowledge is perfect, he knows possibilities as possibilities. (If he knew them any other way, his knowledge would be mistaken.)

Now, does this mean that God doesn’t know the future perfectly? Not at all, unless you assume at the start that the future is exhaustively settled (that is, unless you assume at the start that Open Theism is wrong). If the future is “out there” as an exhaustively settled reality then of course something would be lacking in God’s knowledge if he didn’t know it. But leveling this charge against Open Theists is begging the question, since this is the very view of the future we deny. If one rather sees the future as partly composed of possibilities, then God knows the future perfectly precisely because he knows it as partly composed of possibilities.

Think of it this way. Suppose I’m the author of one of those Choose Your Own Adventure children’s books. In these books, various possible story lines are laid out, but the reader gets to choose which of the possible story lines they want to read. Now, do you think it would be accurate to say that I, the author of this book, didn’t know the future of each of the characters of my book perfectly simply because I let the reader decide which of the possible futures a character has? Of course not! As the author, I know all the possible story lines for each character, so of course I know each character’s future perfectly.

So it is in Open Theism. If you grant that the future is partly comprised of possibilities, you can say, “God knows the future perfectly.”

Related Reading

What is the significance of 2 Chronicles 32:31?

“God left [Hezekiah] to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart.” God tests his covenant partners to discover whether they will choose to remain faithful to him, an exercise that is absurd if God exhaustively foreknows exactly how faithful every person will choose to be. If the…

Topics:

Does Following Jesus Rule Out Serving in the Military if a War is Just?

Jesus and Military People Some soldiers responded to the preaching of John the Baptist by asking him what they should do. John gave them some ethical instruction, but, interestingly enough, he didn’t tell them to leave the army (Lk 3:12-13). So too, Jesus praised the faith of a Centurion and healed his servant while not…

Lighten Up: Underestimated

Frank Viola is at it again. He seems pretty confident that when he and I debate the Open Future this fall that he’ll smear me. That’s his prediction, anyway. The think is, I’ve been underestimated before. It happens all the time. People think I’m this goof who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. That’s OK…

When God’s “Plan A” Falls Through, What’s Next?

Image by Katie Tegtmeyer via Flickr Suzanne was angry, to say the least. Since her early teens, her only aspirations in life were to be a missionary to Taiwan and to marry a godly man with a similar vision, and she prayed daily about these. She went to a Christian college and, quite miraculously, quickly met…

Topics:

Free Will: What is a free agent?

What does it really mean to be a free agent? In this reflection, Greg offers some thoughts on free agents and how it can be that they are not exhaustively determined.

What is the significance of 2 Kings 20:1–7?

The Lord tells Hezekiah “[Y]ou shall die: you shall not recover” (vs. 1). Hezekiah pleads with God and God says, “I will add fifteen years to your life” (vs. 6). If everything about the future was exhaustively settled and known by God as such, his prophecy to Hezekiah that he was going to die would…

Topics: