Classic Theism or Open Theism


I was studying this week and some how I came across the doctrine of Classic Theism and Open Theism which got my attention.  I have gleamed some thoughts from what I read from different sources this week.

Open theism, also called free will theism and openness theology, is the belief that God does not exercise meticulous control of the universe but leaves it “open” for humans to make significant choices (free will) that impact their relationships with God and others. A corollary of this is that God has not predetermined the future. Open Theists further believe that this would imply that God does not know the future exhaustively. Proponents affirm that God is omniscient, but deny that this means that God knows everything that will happen.

Open theists claim they do not deny God’s omniscience, just God’s foreknowledge. The argumentation appears as such: Just as it doesn’t threaten God’s omnipotence to deny that God can make a contradiction true (because omnipotence only means being able to do anything possible), it doesn’t threaten God’s omniscience if his knowledge is limited to what’s true (because omniscience only means knowing everything true). This is not the kind of exhaustive knowledge that most theists believe in, but technically-speaking it is still omniscience. It’s just that much of what traditional theists have considered to be included in omniscience isn’t even true and thus isn’t available for God to know.

Open Theism, also called openness and the open view, is a theological position dealing with human free will and its relationship to God and the nature of the future. It is the teaching that God has granted to humanity free will and that in order for the free will to be truly free, the future free will choices of individuals cannot be known ahead of time by God. They hold that if God knows what we are going to choose, then how can we be truly free when it is time to make those choices –since a counter choice cannot then be made by us, because it is already “known” what we are going to do.1In other words, we would not actually be able to make a contrary choice to what God “knows” we will choose thus implying that we would not then be free


Much of it [the future], open theists will concede, is settled ahead of time, either by God’s predestining will or by existing earthly causes, but it is not exhaustively settled ahead of time. To whatever degree the future is yet open to be decided by free agents, it is unsettled.”4

But open theists would not say that God is weak or powerless. They say that God is capable of predicting and ordaining certain future events because He is capable of working in the world and bringing certain events to pass when the time is needed. Therefore, God could inspire the Old Testament writers to prophesy certain events and then He could simply ensure that those events occurred at the right time.

Furthermore, open theists claim that they do not deny the omniscience of God. They, like classical theologians, state that God is indeed all-knowing. But they differ in that God can only know that which is knowable and since the future has not yet happened, it can not be exhaustively known by God. Instead, God only knows the present exhaustively, including the inclinations, desires, thoughts, and hopes of all people.


Then I read this article:

[This article appeared in Douglas Wilson, ed., Bound Only Once (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2001), 83-94. It is used here with permission.]


Open theists deny that God knows the future exhaustively. In their view, God is often ignorant about what will happen,1 sometimes even mistaken.2 He “expresses frustration”3 when people do things he had not anticipated. He changes his mind when things don’t go as he had hoped.4 In these contentions, open theists admittedly differ from “the classical view of God worked out in the western tradition”5 that prevailed from the early church Fathers to the present with a few exceptions (such as the Socinian heresy6). This classical view has been the position of all Christian theological traditions: Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and all forms of Protestantism.7 It affirms that God has complete knowledge of everything that happens in the past, present, and future. Thus open theism denies the historic Christian view of God’s omniscience. The present article will discuss the major issues in the controversy between the classical view and the open view.  {CEW: if this get your attention you can read the article at the website provided below.}


3 thoughts on “Classic Theism or Open Theism

  1. Tim says:

    You said “A corollary of this is that God has not predetermined the future”.

    With full respect, that isn’t quite right. A more correct representation of Open Theism would be “God has not predetermined ALL OF the future”.

    Open Theists believe that the future is partially open and partially closed. The partially closed portion is the part of the future God has determined in His mind ahead of time to bring about in the future eg the second coming of Christ.

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