A response to the article published by Faith and Philosophy, Journal of The Society of Christian Philosophers, Volume 30, Number 1, January 2013. Article written by William Lane Craig and David P. Hunt.
In this article, I hope to be able to address the issue related to the doctrine of the open theism. According to the Graig and Hunt open theism deny that God knows future contingents. Most open theists justify this denial by adopting the position that there is no future contingent truth to be known. In this paper, I will address the arguments concerned about the questions of: (i) Does God knows future contingents? (ii) Are there any future contingent truth? (iii) Are future contingent statement then false? I expect to draw a defence to God sovereignty and to expose some of the danger of the open theism. Using the article written by Graig and Hunt I expect to be able to show that this wide road leads only to destruction.
The writers asks the following question: “When the course os events can go in more than one direction, giving present condition, does God know which way it will go?” Open theism believes that divine foreknowledge must be restricted in order to ensure that the world safe for genuine free agency. They “claim that God didn’t mean for it to be this way, and that he didn’t know it would happen like this.” John Sanders, one of the proponents of the open theism writes: “God does not have a specific divine purpose for each and every occurrence of evil. . . When a two-month-old child contracts a painful, incurable bone cancer that means suffering and death, it is pointless evil. The Holocaust is pointless evil. The rape and dismemberment of a young girl is pointless evil. The accident that caused the death of my brother was a tragedy. God does not have a specific purpose in mind for these occurrences.”
This is a theological position that takes care of human free will and its future relationship to God and to nature in the future. Its aim is that God has granted to mankind the right to decide everything regard to their lives, what we also call “free will”, but in order for man to be truly free the future choices of individuals cannot be known ahead of time by God. According to this position, if God knows what we are going to choose, then how can we be truly free when it is time to make those choices? In open theism, the future is either knowable or not knowable. For the open theists who hold that the future is knowable by God, they maintain that God voluntarily limits His knowledge of free will choices so that they can remain truly free. Other open theists maintain that the future, being non existent, is not knowable, even by God.
I will make use of the questions raised by Craig and Hunt in order to be able draw an objection to the doctrine of the open theism:
1. Does God knows future contingents?
To answer this question with a simple yes is not that easy, therefore, the writers answer is that “there appear to be two main options here: either there are no future contingent truths for God to know, or there are future contingent truths but God (for one reason or another) doesn´t know them.”
The issue related to God’s knowledge of the future is essential due to the definition of God’s nature in relation to the future. “The consistent position of Scripture is that God knows all things, past, present, and future (Psa. 33:11), as well as all the alternatives. In His sight, time is an eternal “now” (cp. Isa. 57:15; Psa. 90:4). The reason why God knows all things is because He wrote the program. God foreordains. “Foreordination means God’s ordaining, or decreeing, or determining, or appointing, from eternity, whatsoever is to come to pass” (Dr. John Gerstner) (study Neh. 9:6Psa. 33;11; 104:24; Prov. 16:33; Isa. 40:26; 46:10,11; Matt. 10:30; Acts 15:18; Rom. 11:26; Eph. 1:11; Heb. 1:3; Rev. 4:11).”
2. Are there any future contingent truths?
Craig and Hunt explain that to answer this question, “following a negative answer to the question whether God knows future contingents, appears to determine whether the God of open theism can qualify as omniscient, at least in any straightforward sense. An affirmative answer to this second question entails that he is not omniscient, since there will then be truths (namely, all the truths about the contingent future) that God does not know.”
If there is no future contingent truths, this may be either (i) because of all the future contingent statements are false, or (ii) because they have no truth-value at all. The fact is that all things are truly decreed and not merely foreseen for this reason: logically, God cannot foresee anything unless he had decreed it. In his book, Dr. Stanford E. Murrell explains: “Only that is foreknown which is certain, and that only is certain which is decreed. God’s decree cannot rest on an undecreed event for then certainty would rest on uncertainty which is impossible.” (David Clark) What is foreknown must first be predetermined. What is predetermined must be purposed. That which is purposed is purposed because of the Divine will and not because of something foreseen. There is no scriptural basis for believing that God comes into knowledge by looking down the corridors of time and seeing how things will transpire. Rather, He is the divine Author who writes the script for the stage of life upon which the creatures of creation appear to perform their parts before being dismissed to other Divine undertakings. “Although God knoweth whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions, yet hath He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions” (The Baptist Confession Of Faith Of 1689, Chapter 3, Section 2; study Acts 15:18; Rom. 9:11,13,16,18). Rather, God decrees all things according to the pleasure of His will.”
3. Are future contingent statements then false?
Future contingents are contingent statements about the future — such as future events, actions, states etc. The theological issue here is about God’s foreknowledge of the future and the freedom and moral accountability of human beings. This theological issue is connected with the general philosophical question of determinism versus indeterminism.
The sovereignty of God, predestination, and foreknowledge according to divine plan, it can also be argued that the decree of God, though rendering future events certain, does not violate free agency. “The decrees are, like foreknowledge, an act eternal to the divine nature, and are no more inconsistent with free agency than foreknowledge is. Even foreknowledge of events implies that those events are set. If this absolute fixity and foreknowledge is not inconsistent with free agency, much less can be that which is more remote from man’s action, namely, the hidden cause of this fixity and foreknowledge—God’s decrees—be inconsistent with free agency. If anything be inconsistent with man’s free agency, it must be, not the decrees themselves, but the execution of the decrees in creation and providence. On this objection, see Tyler, Memoir and Lectures, 244–249; Forbes, Predestination and Free will, 3—“All things are predestinated by God, both good and evil, but not prenecessitated, that is, causally preördained by him—unless we would make God the author of sin. Predestination is thus an indifferent word, in so far as the originating author of anything is concerned; God being the originator of good, but the creature, of evil. Predestination therefore means that God included in his plan of the world every act of every creature, good or bad. Some acts he predestined causally, others permissively. The certainty of the fulfilment of all God’s purposes ought to be distinguished from their necessity.” This means simply that God’s decree is not the cause of any act or event. God’s decrees may be executed by the causal efficiency of his creatures, or they may be executed by his own efficiency. In either case it is, if anything, the execution, and not the decree, that is inconsistent with human freedom.”
The open theism contingency arguments refuted by Craig and Hunt in the analysed paper is therefore a valid refutation argument. One of the major problems with open theism is that it establishes false ideas about God foreknowledge, omniscience and sovereignty. Since it is a difficult task to conciliate free agency with the doctrine of God’s decrees, it lays questions and propositions to answer their own view of a god which is not the biblical one. Since God is truly sovereign and decrees all things that come to pass, then there cannot be a separation between what happens by Divine will and what happens by human choices. Therefore, it is required for Christians to know that God foreknows nothing by contingency, but that he foresees, purposes, and does all things according to his immutable, eternal, and infallible will.
The unalterably, that is that all things which we do, although they may appear to us to be done mutably and contingently, and even may be done thus contingently by us, are yet, in reality, done necessarily and immutably, with respect to the will of God. Martin Luther puts it in this way: “For the will of God is effective and cannot be hindered; because the very power of God is natural to Him, and His wisdom is such that He cannot be deceived. And as His will cannot be hindered, the work itself cannot be hindered from being done in the place, at the time, in the measure, and by whom He foresees and wills. If the will of God were such, that, when the work was done, the work remained but the will ceased, (as is the case with the will of men, which, when the house is built which they wished to build, ceases to will, as though it ended by death) then, indeed, it might be said, that things are done by contingency and mutability. But here, the case is the contrary; the work ceases, and the will remains. So far has that girl from possibility, that the doing of the work or its remaining, can be said to be from contingency or mutability. But, (that we may not be deceived in terms) being done by contingency, does not, in the Latin language, signify that the work itself which is done is contingent, but that it is done according to a contingent and mutable will — such a will as is not to be found in God! Moreover, a work cannot be called contingent, unless it be done by us unawares, by contingency, and, as it were, by chance; that is, by our will or hand catching at it, as presented by chance, we thinking nothing of it, nor willing any thing about it before.”
The sovereignty of God is the main proposition in my view to refute the ideas of the open theism. Starting with one of the names of God shown in the Bible, such as in Genesis 14:20 and Psalm 9:2, that describe God as The El-Elyon (אֵל עֶלְי֔וֹן, el elyon). This Israelite name for God stresses his strength, sovereignty, and supremacy above all things. The sovereignty of God is the predicate for all theological propositions in the Scripture. For instance we can choose a book in the Bible such as the book of Numbers where we see God establishing a covenant with his people and since God has established his covenant with Israel. His sovereignty must be recognized. The whole book of Numbers is a reflection of the privilege of that recognition and the consequences of its denial. The Lexham Bible Dictionary states that: “Since God was “installed” as the ruler of Israel at Sinai, Numbers develops the portrait of divine sovereignty in a practical setting (Paul R. House, Old Testament Theology, 154–55). The practical realization of Yahweh’s sovereignty is obediently living according to the covenant (Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, 634)… Since God is sovereign, He alone establishes the proper approach to worship in Numbers (Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament, 181). The concern for the priesthood in Numbers stems from its role as the mediator of holiness and the custodian of God’s presence (Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament, 664). The narrative account of Phinehas’ zeal at Baal-Peor legitimates the priests as the holy body of Israel. Numbers is concerned with ensuring that the covenant with Yahweh is maintained through proper worship and holy living—so that God will continue to be present with His people (Cole, Numbers, 62).”
As we have seen in the beginning of this paper open theism tries to answer the question of human suffering using the wrong theology. Therefore we have a problem that stands before us, which is: Is God working all things together for good, even those baffling and horrific things that involve suffering? The whole Bible narratives and its theology shows us that in fact God is working sovereignly in all thing for our good as we can see in Romans 8:28 that tells us for instance that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (ESV).
In order to come to a conclusion in this paper I would like highlight that the open theism argument of contingency cannot be used at all as proof that God has granted to mankind the right to decide everything regard to their lives, and in order for man to be truly free the future choices of individuals cannot be known ahead of time by God. The sovereignty of God and his decree does not adversely affect free agency. For the will of God is effective and cannot be hindered; because the very power of God is natural to Him, and His wisdom is such that he cannot be deceived. The sovereignty of God is the predicate for all theological propositions in the Scripture and must be recognized.
1 William Lane Craig and David P. Hunt, “Perils of the Open Road”, Faith and Philosophy 30, no. 1 (January 2013): 49.
2 Michael Lawrence, Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry, 9Marks (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 138.
3 John Sanders, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2007), 262.
4 Idem, 50.
5 Dr. Stanford E. Murrell, An Introductory Study of Systematic Theology: with References to the Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 (publication place: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013), 51.
6 Idem, 50-51.
7 Ibidem, 51-52.
8 Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology (publication place: BiblioLife, 2010), 330.
9 Martin Luther, De Servo Arbitrio (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, n.d.), 27.
10 Barry, John D., and Lazarus Wentz, eds. The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012.
Barry, John D., and Lazarus Wentz, eds. The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012.
Lawrence, Michael. Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church (Foreword by Thomas R. Schreiner): a Guide for Ministry (9marks). publication place: Crossway Books, 2010.
Luther, Martin. De Servo Arbitrio. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, n.d.
Murrell, Dr. Stanford E. An Introductory Study of Systematic Theology: with References to the Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689. publication place: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013.
Craig, William Lane, and David P. Hunt. “Perils of the Open Road.” Faith and Philosophy 30, no. 1 (January 2013): 1.
Sanders, John. The God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence. 2nd ed. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2007.
Strong, Augustus Systematic Theology. BiblioLife: Timothy Stoneburner, 2010.