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TEXT: Isaiah 46:8-11

SUBJECT: Heresies #9: Open Theism

Eight times this year, we have dipped into history to study a major heresy in the Church. A heresy-you know-is a false teaching. Not every mistake in doctrine is a heresy, of course, but only the big ones, the ones that are not compatible with Christianity. Believers can differ on church government or the mode of baptism or the number of resurrections; they cannot differ on the Divinity of Christ, for to say our Lord is not God is to be no Christian at all. You can deny His Deity and be a nice guy, a religious man, a Bible scholar or a church member, but you cannot be a Christian! That doctrine-first called Arianism-is not compatible with saving faith. You can have one or the other, but you can't have both!

The history of the Church is marred by persistent heresy. It began in the First Century and has been with us ever since. But today, we're not looking back, but at the present. For the heresy we'll look at today began no more than 20 years ago and is gathering speed-fast!

Thirty years ago, no Evangelical scholar in America taught this doctrine-zero, not one! Two years ago, 30% of our most conservative, Bible-believing scholars voted in favor of it (or, would not oppose it). Two publishing companies-famous for their commitment to historic Christianity-have published books promoting this view. The companies are Inter Varsity Press and Baker Book House! IVP was the flagship of intelligent Evangelicalism; Baker was a fortress of popular Calvinism. The editors probably don't accept this new doctrine, but they believe it is an option.

Christianity Today has published articles in favor of it and some of our most conservative Bible Colleges and Seminaries have faculty members who openly teach it.

The new heresy is called Open Theism or The Openness of God.

BASIC MEANING

Some heresies are hard to summarize. Open Theism is not one of them. Its big idea can be clearly put in one short sentence: God does not know the future!

At first glance, this seems to contradict the clear teaching of the Bible. Psalm 147:5 says, "Great is the Lord and of great power; His understanding is infinite". Psalm 139:12 says, "The darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day. The darkness and the light are both alike to You". II Chronicles 16:9 has it: "The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth". "In [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3).

The men who teach Open Theism are not stupid! They have read their Bibles, too, and they have an answer for the verses piled up against them. It comes in the form of an argument:

They say the verses that speak about the Lord's knowledge all refer to His understanding of the past and present-which is complete-but not of the future.

Why not the future too? Because it hasn't happened yet! And so, there's nothing to know about it. I know where I was at nine o'clock this morning; I know where I am now; but I don't know where I will be at four this afternoon-because four in the afternoon is not yet a reality-there is no four in the afternoon today-not yet. In a couple of hours there will be, but not now.

I won't slander the teachers of Open Theism. They don't say God knows nothing about the future. They say He does know something about it-but not everything.

The Lord is wiser than we are, and if we can foresee many things to come, He can predict far more of them. But-to Open Theism-God's knowledge of things to come is only an educated guess; He can see what's likely, but nothing is sure until it happens.

THE JUSTIFICATION

You know why an Atheist or a Pagan would think this way. If there is no God, God doesn't know everything. If the universe is ruled by chance, the future cannot be known. If your gods are limited and in competition with each other, they can't know much more than we do about the future.

But how can a professed Christian believe this? How can a man who says he believes in the inerrancy of the Bible believe the future is unknown to God?

The teachers of Open Theism have an answer to that. In fact, they have three of them.

The first argument is philosophical.

When it comes to God and the future, traditional Protestants fall into two categories: Calvinist and Arminian. The Calvinist believes God has decreed everything that happens (both good and bad). The Arminian believes God has foreseen everything that happens (both good and bad). Both accept an all-knowing God, who has always known all things without exception.

On one point, the Open Theist agrees with the Arminian. To his way of thinking, God has not decreed all things. Men act on their own free will and not by any sort of Divine Rule or Providence.

But they don't stop here: they go on to say that foreknowing all things is no different than decreeing all things. After all, if God knows I will eat a bowl of spaghetti for dinner tonight, I will eat a bowl of spaghetti for dinner tonight. Even if I'd rather have a bacon sandwich!

Thus, if God is sure about the future, the future is sure. If the future is sure, then man's freedom to choose is taken away from him and what looks like freedom is an illusion. Men are no more than wind-up toys.

But if we are not the robots of heaven, then future choices are still open to us and they cannot be known for sure-not even by God!

The second argument is Biblical.

The Openness of God people say the Bible teaches what they believe. They are not appealing to mere reason or to a second holy book or to a dream they had last night. No, they say it's all in the Bible which the Church has misread from the days of Moses until now.

What Bible verses do they name? Many, of course, but mostly the ones that say "The Lord repented" or something like that. Genesis 6:6 says the Lord repented that He made man; I Samuel 15:35 says He repented He had made Saul king; Jonah 3:10 says God repented of the evil He had planned for Ninevah.

"Repent" means He changed His mind. But why would He do that? The Open Theists say it's because men did things He didn't expect them to do. Had He known mankind would have become so wicked, He wouldn't have created us in the first place. But He did create us because-He didn't know. Had He known the sort of king Saul would become, He would have chosen someone else for the throne-but He didn't know. Had He known Ninevah would be so open to His Word, He wouldn't have promised to destroy it in forty days-but He didn't know they would.

Not because the Lord is stupid, but because all these events are future and the future-by definition-is unknowable.

The third argument is practical.

What do you say to a couple who have prayed many years for a baby? At last they have one and it dies at six months old? Why did the Lord give them the baby-only to take it away so soon? Had the parents known the agony of their loss, they would have never prayed for a baby in the first place! Why did God answer their prayer?

The Open Theist has an answer: Because He did not know the baby would die at half a year old. God did not know the doctor who treated the baby would be hung over from the night before and give him a double dose of medicine-and kill him with it.

If God didn't know, He cannot be blamed for the loss. He gave the baby to them in good faith, but things didn't work out the way He hoped they would.

These are the three pillars of Open Theism. God does not have a complete knowledge of the future because: (1) Man has a free will, (2) The Bible says He doesn't, and (3) If He did, bad things wouldn't happen.

THE PROMISED RESULTS

Believers in the Openness of God say their doctrine will turn the Church upside down. I think they're right-but not in the way they promise!

They say it will free the Bible from the philosophy and theology that have been imposed on it. If the Word says "God changed His mind", it's because He hadn't foreseen what men would do with their freedom. If it says He "wanted to know if Abraham feared Him" it's because He thought he did, but wanted to be sure. If He cried, "Adam, where are you?" it's because He didn't know where the man was!

See? Now we're reading the Bible itself and not the philosophy and theology our teachers put into it!

They say it will glorify God by proving He's not behind the bad things that happen in life. If He decrees bad things, He's cruel. If He foresees them-but doesn't warn us-He's indifferent. But if He did not know what would happen to us, we cannot think ill of Him.

They say it will make us love God more. It's hard to love a God who killed your mother. Or even knew she was going to did nothing to stop it. But if He's as shocked by her death as you are, then you can love Him like the dear and sympathetic friend He is.

They say it will promote prayer. If God knows what will happen tomorrow, why pray about it? But if tomorrow is unsure, you can pray and hope that between you and the Lord, you can make it a good day.

They say it will dignify man by showing he's no puppet with God's hand in him.

These are the benefits of Open Theism, we're told. And who could be against any of them? Man is great because he's mad in the Image of God. We ought to pray harder. We need to love God more. We mustn't blame Him for the bad things that happen in life. And, we ought to read the Bible as it is and not through the lens of tradition and other human thought patterns. I'm for all of these things!

But this new heresy is not the way to get them!

A CRITIQUE

What's wrong with Open Theism? In a word: everything!

The Bible teaches that God has a complete knowledge of the future-what will happen, what won't happen, and what might have happened had He wanted it to but didn't.

"I am God and three is no other; I am God and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things that are not yet" (Isaiah 46:9-10).

"There are many plans in a man's heart, nevertheless the Lord's counsel-that shall stand" (Proverbs 19:21).

"Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented a great while ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes" (Luke 10:13).

Prophecy proves that God has a complete knowledge of the future. Many Old Testament Scriptures predict the coming of Christ in great detail: where He'll be born, for example, and to whom; the kind of Man He would be and the suffering He would endure; His death, in particular is described in detail: dying on a cross, no bones broken, being pierced, having His clothes gambled for, and more. It also predicted what kind of tomb His body would be put into-a rich man's! and that He would rise from the dead, ascend into heaven, pour out the Holy Spirit, and make a New People for Himself, from every nation, kindred, tribe, and tongue!

In light of Open Theism, it's amazing how lucky God has gotten-so many things turning out just the way He said they would! As though He knew the future-all of it.

Good reason supports God's full knowledge of the future. The Open Theists knows some things that will occur in the future, just not all things. This seems possible until you think about it. Everything depends on everything else. Thus, if God was not sure of everything, He couldn't be sure of anything.

He said His Son must die on the cross. But what if He hadn't taken into account the man who ate a banana that morning and-instead of throwing the peel in the garbage, dropped it on the ground? And, what if the Lord had stepped on the banana peel, fallen backward, and broken His neck ten feet from Mount Calvary? The certainty of the crucifixion could only be secured by the certainty of everything else!

THE ARGUMENTS COUNTERED

If the Bible says God has a total knowledge of the future, then He does, whether we can counter the arguments against that knowledge or not. But we can-and it's not nearly as hard as the Open Theists think it is.

God's Foreknowledge and our freedom.

They say if God knows I'm going to eat a tuna sandwich for dinner tonight, then I'm going to eat tuna for dinner tonight-even though I hate tuna! If God knows all, then I'm not free; if I'm free, then God doesn't know all.

Does the Bible teach that man is free (in the above sense of free to eat tuna or not to eat it)? Yes it does. But this freedom does not nullify the plan of God because it's in the plan of God!

Let me illustrate: I hate tuna but I might eat it tonight without being forced to by some overpowering fate. How? Well, maybe my wife will make it for me and, loving her and not wanting to disappoint her, I eat it. Or, maybe He has decreed for me to be very hungry at six tonight, but the rainstorm has knocked out the electric oven and keeps me from going out for dinner. The only thing I've got in the cupboard is-two slices of bread and the can of tuna I bought for my cat and forgot to give her!

In these ways-without any force applied, I choose to eat the tuna sandwich God knew I would eat for dinner. If I can think of these things, the Lord can too. And has!

Theologians call this compatibilism-that the will of God and the will of man it together, as though they were meant to.

God repents.

This is an easy one. God accommodates Himself to our little brains. To Jonah, it looked like God changed His mind when He didn't destroy Nineveh, and that's how the book describes it described the mercy He sent after promising a judgment.

The prophet didn't explain all this because he figured the illiterate Jew would know what he meant. Of course an All-knowing God wasn't surprised by the city's repentance. He knew it all along.

God's foreknowledge and bad things.

If God sees the drunk driver coming my way, why doesn't He stop him or at least give me a heads up? Why should I be maimed if the Lord could prevent it? The Open Theists say it's because He didn't know it would happen. But the Bible says He did. And so, why didn't He do something about it? Three reasons come to mind:

THE DEADLY FRUIT

The Open Theists promise much good will come of their doctrine. I cannot deny their good intentions, but I will deny their happy promises. Open Theism is not milk or meat; it's poison!

It robs God of His glory. The Lord is not a super smart man, He's God--His understanding is infinite".

It breeds unbelief. Faith is not optimism! We don't believe God because we need to. We believe Him because what He says is true! But how can His promises be true if He's not sure that He can pull them off in the end? His supposed lack of knowledge makes failure an option.

It cuts us off from the Communion of the Saints. This is a problem many don't care about, but I do-very dearly. Thirty years ago nobody believed Open Theism. Thus they lived and died in fellowship with a God who knows all. But, following the new heresy, we won't be in fellowship with that God, and thus we won't be in communion with His people from the beginning of the world until 1970-something!

It undercuts our confidence in the Bible. If the Bible was good advice for people living long ago, what if something new pops us-something God didn't foresee? Can the Word help us any more? How can it? How could George Washington give us any advice on fixing a car? And how can a God who doesn't know the future provide us everything we need in His Word? This is how the unbeliever feels: the Bible may have been true for shepherds living centuries ago, but times have changed and it no longer applies. Is that right? No, it's unbelief. And it's Open Theism!

It creates an unhealthy dependence on "the experts". If God's advice might be wrong (due to His ignorance), then maybe we should turn to "the experts", even when they disagree with Him. This is exactly what has happened: the Bible's way of training children is obsolete, so turn the medication, turn to the counselor, turn to the mean woman giving advice of the radio.

WHAT TO DO

What do we do with this heresy? For ourselves, we don't listen to it! Even if it's being preached by our favorite man on the radio.

For the ones caught in the heresy, we pity them, pray for them, and try to help them to believe in "the only wise God, our Savior".

That's Open Theism. God save us from it-and the world too! For Christ's sake. Amen.

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