Friday, April 18, 2008

Open Theism, logically flawed

Plenty of better thinkers than I have tackled the subject of open theism and shown its demerits at a purely Scriptural and theological level. I'd like to take a few words to demonstrate its logical inconsistencies. I hope you'll pardon the use of a slightly more formal logic than I would ordinarily use in a post.

An important definition before we begin:
Libertarian free will - the view of free will held by open theists, positing that man's will is entirely continguent and therefore unknowable. That is, it cannot be known, even by God, until the choice is made.

Axiom: Scripture is true.
Corollary: God knows that some will be saved (see Revelation, etc. for demonstration of His sure knowledge of the salvation of a bride for Christ).
These two may be considered "fundamental" in the sense that they are agreed upon by both open theists and traditional Christians. The first is truly axiomatic; the second we take as equally foundational since it logically follows from the first.

Axiom: Scripture allows the view that man has libertarian free will.

Axiom: Scripture does not require that man has libertarian free will.
Here is where the point of contention is, of course, but most open theists agree that libertarian free will is not required by Scripture. Most traditional Christians would contest the first of these premises, but we posit for the sake of argument.

Premise: Man has libertarian free will.

From the premises we argue:

1. God, not knowing the future, does not know what individual men and women will choose regarding salvation until they have chosen.

2. All men, their wills being free, may choose to go to hell or to heaven by accepting Christ's salvation and Lordship. (Clarification: this is all individuals.)

3. The general case of some persons going to heaven is contingent on the choices of individuals to go to heaven.

Therefore, since all individuals may choose to go to hell, and their choice may not be known beforehand
4. God may not have knowledge of some people's going to heaven absent knowledge of specific individuals' going to heaven.
5. God cannot know whether any people will go to heaven, and therefore whether Christ will have a bride, people of every tribe and tongue will be saved, and so on.

Contradiction to an axiom.

Since the axiom is not under debate, nor its necessary corollary, it falls to us to reject our premise as false. The axioms may come under consideration separately, but assuming those, we must reject the premise that man has libertarian free will.

Why is this important? Because libertarian freewill is the keystone of open theism. Open theism posits that God's lack of foreknowledge of the future is because of the indeterminacy of the future - that is, that it does not yet exist, because it is contingent on the choices of man. Specifically, the argument is that because of libertarian free will, the future may not be known. However, if man does not have libertarian free will, then the future may be known (or else another reason why it may not be known must be shown), and indeed is known by God, who (all agree) possesses all knowledge that may be known.


Rman said...

Well, Chris, if God can allow for nearly infinite generations before the rapture then the probability of all people rejecting him would approach 0.

Not only that, but I believe that open theists allow for God to limit the branches of the future. This may be a partial restriction on libertarian free will, but still, I think open theists would deny Mary the choice of any 1st century abortion or suicide.(If not, then a counterfactual would be quite interesting)

I don't agree that God must know who will specifically choose him to know that some will choose him. I think that if God controls the day of the rapture then he can basically assure that some will choose him.

Frankly, I would give open theism more credit than you do. This is not to say that I agree with it though, however, one of the reasons I think that it is chosen is due to the problem of evil. Logically there are only 2 solutions: libertarian free will or Liebnizian optimism, and the latter feels so intuitively wrong to seem a blatant lie.

Joshua said...

Two things simply must be said in light of this post.

First, I'm concerned that you say "better thinkers have tackled the subject of open theism and shown its demerits..." I find this funny since the majority of open theists are actually philosophy doctorates teaching (or formerly teaching) at seminaries. The sentence is shamefully inaccurate, and I would respond by saying that better thinkers than you have come to the conclusion of open theism.

But, alas, logically it doesn't matter since neither of us will change our mind regarding who is an open theist and who's not.

A second point that simply must be brought up is your definition of libertarian free will.

It's wrong.

Libertarian free will says that man's will is "mostly" contingent and therefore "mostly" unknowable. If God did not set certain parameters around our will, then of course He wouldn't be in control. But that's not the case, as the Bible is clear upon.

Rather, every choice of ours is limited by certain parameters set sovereignly by God. Sometimes our choice is entirely limited (see prophecy). However, most times, our choice is free for us to choose, though God knows every possible alternative for every possible free choice. Nothing surprises God, though it may be unlikely given circumstances.

Given your inaccurate definition of libertarian free will, the entire argument falls.

Ryan's comment above lists other good points that I encourage you to refer to.

Joshua said...

To elaborate further, I simply wanted to add that your definition of libertarian free will is not bad though a little inaccurate. You are correct in saying that it is contingent in so far as it cannot be known in its actuality but you are incorrect in saying that it is "entirely contingent" because God knows every possible alternative and every possible alternative's possible alternatives. (from the open theist perspective of course)

You are very close in your arguing, though, and I applaud your efforts to think it through.

Applying your definition, I would be inclined to say that you have flawless logic.

Keep seeking after God! Beliefs are one thing; your relationship with God is another.

Bobby said...

Hi, I'm a semi-random observer and want to throw my two cents into this discussion.

Many of the prominent proponents of open theism (Sanders, Boyd, etc) will openly confess that their adoption of this theology flows from their struggling prayer life. They "felt" a contradiction existed between an eternally omniscient God and a meaningful, productive prayer life as described in James 5:16 and other passages.

In order to solve this supposed contradiction they turned to pragmatic theology. "If my prayers are going to mean anything than God can't know everything. If God does know everything before it happens, then I don't have any kind of free will. Because I want to have a free will (in their way of defining it) then my God won't know everything."

Joshua, open theists don't merely believe that God knows all possible outcomes. Many of them take it one step further and say that God needs our help in obtaining information about our life and the world. The idea that God sovereignly designed this kind of system is logically impossible. God is supreme, sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and eternal. He cannot contradict his own nature. To decree that His knowledge, power, presence, and sovereignty would be inhibited in any way would be to contradict his eternal attributes. He would cease to be God.

Open theists do not take into account that God exists outside of time and sees everything (past, present, and future) in an "eternal now". He sees it all at once. That's impossible for us to fully comprehend because we are finite while God is not. In order for God's "definte foreknowledge" to be limited He would have to exist inside the boundaries of time as man is. Again, for that to happen God would have to be confined by his own creation, which in turn would mean that God is not supreme and sovereign. That would the God of scripture does not exist.

There's a lot more at stake in open theism than just varying views on the extent and kind of free will possessed by man. It's an assault on the very nature of God Almighty.

Is there a perceived tension between God's sovereignty and man's will? Yes. Is there an answer to it? Yes. Is that answer open theism? No. Do I know exactly what that answer is? No.

What I do know is that open theism is a theology that starts with man and works backward to God. That is a dangerous way of discovering and following God.

One last comment, just because someone teaches in a seminary or holds a PhD does not make them a better thinker than anyone else. It means they completed the required coursework and found a place that would pay them to teach. Teaching at an educational institution does not inherently mean a person is a great thinker no more than someone with a PhD in theology makes someone a better believer.

Thanks for letting me intrude.

Rman said...

I have no problem with your intrusion, and I doubt that Chris, who posted this, would either given that Chris dislikes Open Theism.

I think that most Open Theist reject the classical theistic traits of God. This means there is no contradiction, but rather a different interpretation of God's traits. Certainly there is the notion that free will demands a loss of sovereignty.

Open theists don't BELIEVE that God exists in an eternal now. Heck, not even all conservative Christians believe in that though as evidenced by this post by Christian apologist Greg Koukl:
Frankly, your argument really depends on how we view time. Honestly, I tend to side with Greg on the point that a timeless God requires too much of a theological sacrifice from us.

You are right, open theism does change the nature of God. I think all of the participants recognize that.

Well, the issue bobby, is that as Christians seeking truth about God, we seek the answers to the questions to these questions. Logically there is a tension between man's will and God's sovereignty, if one is upheld, the other must logically be weakened. Frankly, I tend to weaken man's will.

I disagree with you entirely, starting with man and then stretching out to God is the best way to know God. That is why God gave us the man Jesus Christ, so that through him and his revelation we can know God. That is why God gave us a gospel to read. That is why God strives so hard to relate to us, if we do not know how God relates to us, how God IS love, and what God wants for us to do for our fellow man, you know, that which Christ called us to do, then how can we know God?

You are right, a PhD and a position do not inherently mean anything, but they are signs of something. And certainly the signs of a trait we are looking for should not be discounted if the actual trait is impossible for us to directly assess.

rotsaP loeJ said...

perhaps, in suggesting better thinkers than himself have rejected open theism, Chris was alluding to our mutual acquaintance the Apostle Paul. Open theism is nonesense.

Biggs said...


I have to disagree with your assertion about probability. While it may solve the problem of no one ever receiving Christ, it doesn't account for the elect within specific people groups (Rev 5:9, 7:9).

Also, it only solve the problem of no one receiving Christ, but it fails with the other extreme: everyone coming to Christ. Now, that is highly unlikely, given man's fallen nature; however, what if 60% of the world came to Christ? While this is desirable, it seems to be contrary to what the Bible says will happen (Matt 7:13-14).

Joshua said...

I tend to doubt that, Biggs. Of course, we've already talked about this in the car, but there are two ways of getting around your complaint regarding Rev. 5:9 and 7:9. First, it could be interpreted broadly, meaning of the world as a whole instead of every single little tribe. But even if you discount that solution, then you can say that God out of His omnipotence limits the branches. Thus, if every person in the tribe but one rejects, then it would cause one person to accept. The problem, of course, with limiting the branches is that God has to give up on the possibility for goodness (using C.S. Lewis' principle of...transitivity?: the better one is, the worse one could be). God can only limit our possibility for badness by limiting our possibility for goodness.

Either way, it solves the problem that you have posed.

Regarding your second complaint, it says "many" not most. At least in the NKJV (very accurate) and the NIV (get the idea across).

rotsaP loeJ said...

The argument over open theism is not essentially statistical. It is theological. That is, rather than extrapolating odds and probabilities, the real case against it is that it precisely contradicts such revelation as we possess about the nature of God and how he acts. The texts of Scripture that discuss God knowing, planning, and intending particular decisions - for men as well as nations - are legion. Romans 8 springs gazelle-like to mind, as do Genesis 45, Proverbs 21, and Acts 2.

Furthermore, for all of Mr Lewis' manifold virtues as a critic - I like his earlier stuff especially - he was a pretty crappy exegete, and his idea that limiting choice equates to limiting the possibility of goodness or badness is biblically indefensible. One thinks of the crucifixion: Acts 2 (as well as the words of Jesus) makes it clear that this was bought about by the direct agency and intention of the Lord. Will anyone suggest the mob and Pharisees and Romans bore no guilt between them for the God-man's blood? For that matter, Romans 8.7 states unequivocally that non-Christians are unable to do what is pleasing to God. There is no choice about it, yet there will certainly be condemnation.

Jonah4:4 said...

As another semi-random observer, I'd like to respond to your comment specifically.

The 1st issue we should tackle is this "eternal now" business. I know it well as I once believed the same thing. God created the universe (including Time) and therefore exists outside of it. From an outside perspective, God would be able to see all of time as one single instant. He would effectively be observing the universe as a kind of 4-dimensional sculpture that he had sculpted, simultaneously seeing what we call past and future as different features of one grand attribute in its existence.

I see you're a fan of logic. I'm glad for that. We, as Christians, should revere logic. In a way, it is the grammar of Truth. And we must also realize that, like Truth, there is only one Logic. We can state things improperly, but when we do so we are not creating a different logic, we are violating the Real Logic. From this, we should also see that there is no difference between "man's logic" and "God's logic." Logic is the expression of Truth. And we agree there is only one Truth and it belongs to God.

I make this aside to make sure that when we reach difficult spots or contradictions in theology that we do not immediately dismiss them as mystery and say things like "God is above Logic."

So, when we try to apply logic to our Eternal Now, the Open Theists are saying that some of those contradictions pop up. Open Theists, besides saying that there is only one Truth and only one Logic, will also say that there is only one Reality. When people say that from our perspective we make our own choices and those choices are free, and then also say that from God's perspective everything has been set by His hand the instant the universe was created, we say that presents two incompatable realites. This is illogical and only one of them can be true. If one of those is God's reality, it must be the ultimate reality and therefore the true one. Our perspective of our own free choices is, therefore, false. An intellectually honest Calvinist will admit this much.

But this not only means that every single decent thing that anyone does comes solely from God; it also means that every single sin from white lies to child abuse comes solely from God. How can that be since God has told us that He hates sin and that He does not tempt man into it? This is a blatant contradiction. I guess that when we say "all things are a part of His plan" we also mean that some things are MORE a part of His plan than others.

And it does no good to say that we just don't know how this works yet. It is a strong contradiction within the very nature of God that many Christians espouse. God tells us that He is not the author of confusion, and yet many are confused about the basic elements of His character. This will not do.

There are many different ways to express the logical contradictions of the Eternal Now. This is just one example.


___________________________ said...

Well, Brian, I would argue that the statistical argument may fail theologically in terms of specific election, but that was not Chris's argument. I agree with you on that point of specific election.

Also, Brian, the statistical argument works because with large numbers we see an increasing chance of a certain outcome. 60% is likely a few too many standard deviations away from the actual probability to even be a considered outcome, you know like 6 sigma plus or something, especially given that I explicitly referenced very very very large numbers where stds approach 0.

Frankly though, your point just reminds me of how much the standard Liebnizian theodicy appears to suck at dealing with the problem of evil. 60% of the populace coming to God would be a good thing, all agree on this, but it, or a better thing than that, does not happen. God is very much omnipotent in classical theism though, and we already admitted it would be a great thing, why doesn't he do this? I mean, either we must say he cannot or that it really is desirable to God that 40+% of the world's populace over all of history burn in hell.

Joel, you are right. The problem with open theism is theological. Open theism as a system can be consistent, but it may be inconsistent with scripture, or at least harder to reconcile(there are a few open theist theologians out there, and there are open theist hermeneutics such as JONAH(Jehovah's obvious nativity attributes hermeneutic) and NOAH(New Openness Attributes Hermeneutic), as well as scriptures that open theists particularly emphasize.

Frankly, I stand with the theology against open theism, such as the verses you used, I just thought that Chris's specific argument sucked, and I hate bad arguments. No offense Chris(I don't think(or hope) you'll take any because no person in this discussion so far has actually defended your specific argument despite agreeing with you in theological position), not all arguments can be brilliant despite your brilliance, I know that my own arguments can have stinkiness at times, as well as my assessment of other people's arguments... um.. but hopefully that is enough self-effacing where people get my point and that I am being crass but not hateful.

Christopher Krycho said...

No worries, I'm not offended. I'm appreciating the ongoing discussion, and this was more an interesting side note than my primary issue with open theism. I think that, with refinement, the argument may actually hold, but I've had neither the time nor inclination to make that argument.

A few points of clarification: Josh, I never said anything regarding the intelligence of people who have come to believe open theism. The fact that you twisted my words complimenting better theologians and philosophers who have defended open theism into an attack on those who hold it is indicative, in my mind, of the mood in which most of our discussion: that is, a continuing tendency on your part to mischaracterize my position, regardless of what particular issue is at stake.

The fundamental issue with open theism is of course the theological issue raised if one follows the same hermeneutic to its logical conclusion. Despite a number of attempts to hide the problem, if one actually applies the same hermeneutic to Scripture consistently that is applied to show that God doesn't know the future, one also quickly realizes that it leads to the conclusion that God does not know the present (Genesis 3 in particular indicating God's lack of knowledge of the present) or the past (Genesis 13 and innumerable other passages where God speaks of "finding out" what has gone on). One cannot simply dismiss these with the statement, "Well, of course God knows the past and the present!" because that's no more an argument than my simply saying, "Well, of course God knows the future!"

This sort of inconsistency has seen few responses, because there's simply not any good way around it. If we are going to interpret what traditional hermeneutics have seen as anthropomorphisms as actual direct theologically heavy statements, then we must do so consistently. One must either take them as anthropomorphisms or not; there is no freedom to cherry-pick them in such a manner as fits one's argument.

Moreover, and this is more looking at Josh's argument here, I know of no respectable scholar who interprets the "panta ta ethne" clauses (and the variants thereupon) in the New Testament as anything but to specific people groups. Certainly, given the context in which the Revelation passages are set, there is no reason in the text to suggest what you've argued: to the contrary, someone of the writing and scholarly caliber of John, who makes any number of rather elegant references to Greek philosophy, would be unlikely to say something in such a confusing way. Besideswhich, John himself has a propensity for using cosmos in a way that can be (though I do not believer should be) used to support an Arminian position - so his choice instead to specify "every tribe and tongue" in a fairly direct parallel to similar passages in the Old Testament and in both Jesus' prophetic passage ("The gospel will be preached in all the world and then the end will come") and the Great Commission (probably the most famous panta ta ethne clause) should be interpreted as what it says: every tribe and tongue. Absent the philosophical presuppositions you bring to the table, there is no reason whatsoever to hold an alternate view of this passage.

Jonah 4:4 - I simply have to disagree with your characterization of any kind of all-knowingness as being will-constraining. Even in the open theist position, God is all-knowing of all that has happened in the past; yet this is not tantamount to his having constrained it. An intellectually honest Calvinist may admit any number of things, depending on his philosophical outlook and interpretation. Certainly there is no sense of contradiction from my perspective; very much the contrary. Moreover, I see no reason why God cannot ordain free choice to lead to particular outcomes (and, it must be noted... neither do open theists). The "contradictions" posed are simply not contradictions, but rather paradoxes - and the two are not the same.

I'd love to continue in this vein, but unfortunately studying for finals precludes my doing so.

Carry on!

___________________________ said...

Well, that makes me feel good that you aren't offended. I think the best ways to refine would be towards stronger theological basis perhaps or emphasizing reductionism rather than outright disproof(like, I think open theism as a self-contained system, can be logically consistent, but I do not think that God's relationship to the future is a better understanding), because, you are right, there are issues with Open Theism and the doctrine of election.

Chris, honestly, I don't blame Josh for seeing your claim on better theologians to be an attack, especially given that you said better theologians had "shown its demerits". Frankly, both sides are going to tend to use self-serving biases in order to promote their own stances, and that is just the nature of psychology/human fallenness.

I agree, the problem with open theism is its theology. I will say that on the issue of anthropomorphisms, my stance would be to seek to interpret in a manner that leads to less issues of outright contradiction or that minimizes assumptions down to the rational. Now, whether or not I follow that stance may be less clear.

Chris, the past is already constrained. It HAPPENED, it is not happening, nor is it unhappened. I think you are assuming a B- theory of time where the flow is an illusion and all times are equal and Josh is assuming an A- theory of time where the flow is real and meaningful and there is a distinction between past and future. The reason why God cannot ordain free will to do something is because that removes the special power that people give free will as it destroys agency. If men only do what God wants them to do, then their good and their bad acts are God's acts as he was the only one to act independently of outside interference. We can call that free will perhaps, but there is no possibility of choosing other than God what God wanted and ordained to happen(sort of like if a man were a robot). This isn't paradoxical but rather a real issue with personal responsibility and things like that and something that can be dealt with through different conceptualizations, but to those who are not working within the same logical framework and who define the terms differently, then yes, these issues are blatant paradoxes.

Jonah4:4 said...


Exact foreknowledge, if it exists anywhere, by necessity removes free choice. There are different ways to approach this depending on presuppositions. Since I was responding to Bobby's Eternal Now, I could start there.

The Eternal Now presupposes that Time is an element of Creation. If this is true, then certainly it is either something that God is outside of or it is something that is encompassed by God. In this case there is no differentiation of past-present-future to God; all time is one. If this is your presupposition on the nature of Time, then yes, God knows each choice and event that has/is/and will ever happen.

From here we can go two directions. We can say that God knows all of these things because He personally crafted each choice and event. Everything that happens is His will. Nothing is outside of it. Each choice and event, whether for good or evil, comes straight from the hand of God, our Creator.

Or, we could go the other way and say that God knows these events not because He causes them but merely because of His vantage point. Being "outside" He can see clearly and exactly what will happen, and yet our choices, whether good or evil, are still free. But this direction strips Him of His title as Creator. In the first direction He causes all evil. In the second He is only an observer. There is no logically consistent middle ground to be found in the Eternal Now. Either our choice is false and God is a tyrant, or our choice is real and God is not God.

I agree with you on the difference between contradictions and paradoxes. I just don't believe this is one of those paradoxes. A paradox is an apparent contradiction that really is true despite its appearance. When we call something a paradox we're really just saying that we don't have enough information to decide this issue one way or the other. A paradox can be something that we're not sure if it is true. A paradox cannot be something that inherently can't be true.

But all this is an argument against Time as a created thing. I don't believe it is necessarily so. If time is created, then certainly God is outside of it. But God is not outside of Love or outside of Life. These are not created things but features of the very nature of God. I believe Time to be like this-- a concept derived from God's attribute of interaction and relation. The entire narrative of scripture describes a God who is interacting with his creation in a very real way. God even interacts between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All interactions and relationships are driven by change. Out of this change comes the characteristic of Life. And in describing Life we get the concept of Time.

Time, being part of the nature of God and not a created thing, would not be something for God to be either inside or outside of. In this case it would make as much sense to say that God is "limited by time" as it would to say He is limited by Love or by Truth.