What is Open Theism

open theism potterOpen theism is a different way of looking at the nature of reality and God’s interaction with Mankind. For an alternative view, please see http://theologicaloverload.com/the-butterfly-effect-and-where-open-theism-fails/

Traditionally, God has been seen, since the fifth century at least, as existing outside of time. This is not the case in Open Theism (OT):

In OT the future is partly settled and partly open. The settled future is that which God determines for himself to undertake; the open parts are those which rely on free will. If God ever causes a man to take a particular action it is seen as a form of influence, or guidance rather than coercion. In OT God and man work together, but always in pursuit of God’s over-arching plan.

Biblical prophesy is God’s revelation of his own future plans. in Isaiah 46:10 God says:

Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:

Many will take this to mean that God “sees” into the future. Fairly obviously it says no such thing. It tells us that God has an overarching plan, he knows what it is and when he will complete it, but that it is yet to do. Sometimes God will tell us the future then change his mind, as he did with the destruction of Nineveh in 40 days, which didn’t take place (Jonah 3:3):

3So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days’ walk. 4Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk; and he cried out and said, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”

Time

God’s freedom to change his mind can only come from interacting with time as we understand it: linear and sequential, understanding that reality takes place in a series of sequenced steps rather than as a single fixed event. God reacts to events and prayer. When he says that he will do something it is not because he has seen that he will using exhaustive foreknowledge, but because he has purposed it. God may change his mind only when faced with change himself. Had God known from eternity past that he would take a direction and subsequently change his mind, one would have to answer why the Perfect Being wouldn’t have got it right the first time. So how do we arrive at a “Timeless Reality”?

The Eternal Now

The concept of God in the “eternal now” is an Augustinian one, based in neo-platonic thought. God has to be “out of time” in this understanding for the following Platonic reasons:

  1. God is perfect.
  2. Perfection cannot be improved upon, only lessened
  3. Change can only be for the better or the worse
  4. A perfect God cannot change
  5. To obtain new knowledge is change
  6. Therefore God cannot obtain new knowledge
  7. Therefore God must possess all knowledge, and must always have possessed this knowledge
  8. Therefore God is atemporal (outside of time).

I believe this analysis fails at point 3. Some perfect things do change, and some perfect things retain their perfection through change. At what point in its growth does the perfect tree cease to be so? Does the perfect clock become less perfect if it keeps perfect time? Once this objection is analysed it becomes clear that God does not need to know a future that does not yet exist in order to remain perfect; he is perfect minute by minute, second by second.

This is the key to understanding open theism: that the past present and future do not co-exist, but are ordered sequentially and in linear form. The past no longer exists, the future does not yet exist, and all that exists is the present (which a nanosecond ago was the future and a nanosecond later is the past). Once that is understood, biblical prophecy can be seen for what it is – the revelation of God’s own determined plans for the future. God can declare the end from the beginning because it is HIS plan, for example. Open theism explains the countless incidences in scripture where God changes his mind or learns new things without resorting to anthropomorphism or anthopopaphism, both of which remove any concept of God, in whose image we are made, truly communicating with mankind.

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