Isn’t God “changing his mind” an anthropomorphism?
Question: Traditionalists argue that passages that refer to God “changing his mind” are anthropomorphic, depicting God in human terms. Open Theists take these passages literally, however. But if you’re going to take these passages literally, it seems you should, for consistency’s sake, also interpret passages about God “coming down” from heaven literally (e.g. Gen. 11:5; 18:21). Conversely, if you’re unwilling to take these passages literally, how can you insist that the passages about God changing his mind are literal?
Answer: This argument assumes that since Open Theists take some passages (which are treated as anthropomorphic by traditionalists) literally, Open Theists must then take all passages in the Bible literally. How does that follow? One could just as easily argue that since traditionalists treat as anthropomorphic passages that Open Theists take literally, traditionalists must then treat all passages in the Bible anthropomorphically! It’s really a very bad argument.
The fact of the matter is that nobody takes everything in the Bible literally and no one takes everything in the Bible to be metaphorical (anthropomorphic or otherwise). We all have to determine what genre a passage fits into – and thus, whether it’s intended to be more literal, or more anthropomorphic. The only claim of Open Theists is that there’s no good exegetical or philosophical reason to take passages that speak about God changing his mind as anthropomorphic. The only reason traditionalists interpret them this way is because admitting God changes his mind conflicts with the traditional view that God exhaustively knows the future from all eternity as a domain of settled facts. If you grant that God really changes his mind, you must acknowledge that the future is partly open.
I would go further and argue that interpreting these passages as anthropomorphic renders their meaning unclear. If God doesn’t actually change his mind, then what do the passages that explicitly declare that he does change his mind mean? Saying they’re anthropomorphic doesn’t help us, for anthropomorphic expressions, if they’re true, must still communicate something accurate about God. Saying God has “a strong arm,” for example, communicates that God is strong – even though he doesn’t literally have arms. But what does it mean to say “God changes his mind” if in fact God doesn’t change his mind? This is simply inaccurate.
I therefore conclude that when the Bible says God changes his mind (which it does 39 times), it quite literally describes God changing his plans in response to changing circumstances in history. And this implies that the future is partly open.