Posts tagged Open Theism

1994-2004, an Overview of the Debate on Open Theism in Evangelicalism

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John Sanders

Let me provide a brief overview of the history of the debate within evangelicalism. For many years the core ideas of openness had been buried in academic journals and I thought it was time to bring them to the attention of a broader public so I organized a team and we published The Openness of God. That the book had immediate impact is indicated by the fact that it placed eighth in the Christianity Today book of the year awards and that in January of 1995, Christianity Today reviewed the book with not just one but four reviewers.1 The lead review asked some good questions and was generally favorable but the other three absolutely trashed the book. In a February 1998 article in Christianity Today, Tom Oden wrote: “The fantasy that God is ignorant of the future is a heresy that must be rejected. . . .”2 John Piper, a prominent pastor in the Baptist General Conference, used Oden’s hersey comment to argue that Greg Boyd, a professor of theology at Bethel College in Saint Paul and pastor in the BGC, should be fired from the college and his pastoral credentials revoked. A great deal of time and energy was spent in this attempt. A board of inquiry was formed that ultimately found Boyd within the boundaries of BGC doctrine. At the1999 and 2000 annual meetings of the BGC resolutions were introduced to remove Boyd but they failed.

The Calvinist critics of openness had some success in the Southern Baptist Convention. In 1999 they introduced a resolution on divine foreknowledge that the delegates approved to include as a revision to the Baptist Faith and Standard. In 2000 the SBC approved the following:  God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things,past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures.  However, these changes were not ratified by a number of state conventions, most notably the Texas convention, which is the largest. After the 1999 resolution in the SBC a February 7, 2000 editorial in Christianity Today titled “God vs. God” exhorted the critics of open theism to continue to debate rather than seek political means to squelch it. Evangelical critics of open theism were outraged at the editorial, questioning whether Christianity Today could be trusted any longer.

When the evangelical publishers, Baker and InterVarsity Presses, decided to publish more books by open theists, accusations were made that such presses could no longer be trusted to produce only works fit for evangelical consumption. One high-profile critic, who has several books published with Baker, threatened to withdraw all his books if Baker went ahead with its plans to publish a book by an open theist. They published the book. This provoked the neo-fundamentalist magazine, World, to publish a scathing attack on open theism and Baker Books. Virulent and inaccurate critiques of openness appeared in the September 1999 issue of Modern Reformation with the theme: “God in Our Image” and in the March 2001 issue of Christianity Today titled “God at Risk.”

However, in May and June of 2001 Christianity Today published a series of e-mail exchanges on openness between Chris Hall and me titled “Does God Know Your Next Move?” This finally allowed a proponent of openness to explain the position to a large evangelical readership. The editors at the magazine must be given credit for allowing this theological debate to continue in the face of intense pressure to cut it off at the knees.

Other critiques of openness appeared in the winter 2002 edition of Contact, the news magazine of Gordon-Conwell Seminary and in the March 2003 issue of Moody magazine.

In 2001 some pastors in the denomination that owns Huntington College organized an attempt to have me removed from the college. Over a two year period I faced a board of inquiry and expended a tremendous amount of energy coping with the numerous political maneuvers of my opponents.

During this time opponents of openness worked to get open theists expelled from membership in the Evangelical Theological Society (a predominately Calvinistic, conservative evangelical, group that desires to speak for all evangelicalism). At the 2000 annual meeting the Executive Committee announced that the theme for the following year, “Defining Evangelicalism’s Boundaries” would include an examination of open theism. At the 2001 meeting over three dozen papers were read on openness. At an ad hoc business meeting the majority of the membership endorsed the following resolution: “We believe the Bible clearly teaches (emphasis mine) that God has complete, accurate and infallible knowledge of all events past, present and future, including all future decisions and actions of free moral agents.” The June 2002 issue of the journal of the society was dedicated to a discussion of open theism.

At the 2002 meeting Roger Nicole, one of the founding members of the society, formally charged Clark Pinnock and me with violating the doctrinal statement of the society by our denial that God possessed exhaustive definite foreknowledge. He charged that this implied that we denied the truth of scripture. The members voted to have the Executive Committee hold a formal hearing, which was done in October of 2003. The Committee decided that Pinnock was not guilty of the charge but that I was. The reason centered on the truth value of statements about the future actions of free creatures. I said they are only probabilities, not certainties. For them, any biblical statement about the future must be true in the sense that it is a certain fact to occur. It seems to me that such a view presupposes the stasis theory of time which open theists reject. Pinnock was exonerated because when asked about his stand on this matter he replied that he did not know much about such philosophical intricacies. Shortly before the 2003 annual meeting the faculty of the Southern Baptist seminaries passed resolutions against open theism. At the November ETS meeting a lengthy special business meeting was held. The “heavy hitters” of the Southern Baptists showed up and spoke strongly against open theism. The vote of the membership was 67% to retain Pinnock while 63% voted to remove me. However, this fell short of the required two-thirds needed for expulsion. I think the vote represents the fact that Executive Committee voted for Pinnock and against me due to the philosophical issues. One way to read this vote is that 1/3 of the members voted to expel us no matter what the recommendation of the Executive Committee was, another third voted to keep us no matter what the recommendation of the Executive Committee was, and the final third were swing votes that went with the recommendation of the Executive Committee. Hence, the ETS is very split on the matter.

Clearly, open theism has become a hot topic within evangelicalism. I am aware of nineteen books from evangelical publishers alone, dozens of journal articles, and over seventy conference papers. That open theism has struck a raw nerve with neoevangelical Calvinists can be seen in the titles of the books against open theism: God Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents God, The Battle for God, Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity, God’s Lesser Glory: the Diminished God of Open Theism, No Other God, and, from one of my former professors, Creating God in the Image of Man.

At the end of his 1995 review of The Openness of God in Christianity Today, Roger Olson asked whether American evangelicals have “come of age enough to avoid heresy charges and breast-beating jeremiads in response to a new doctrinal proposal that is so conscientiously based on biblical reflection rather than on rebellious accommodation to modern thought? This may be the test.” Ten years later, I wonder how Professor Olson would score the test.

Why is OT so threatening to some evangelicals?

1.   Why have Calvinist evangelicals reacted so strongly? Why the brouhaha?

1.1 Open theists have presented the most acute criticism of, and alternative to, meticulous providence (theological determinism) in quite some time. Open theism has raised some extremely important points about Classical theism such as the inability of the God of Classical theism to respond to what we do or be affected

by our prayers. Open theists have exposed these drawbacks and the proponents of meticulous providence know that their model simply will not sell in, for instance, many evangelical circles. It is no surprise that virtually all of the railing accusations and virulent rhetoric have come from proponents of meticulous providence.

1.2 The hermeneutical issues raised in the debate have undermined the sense of certainty that some evangelicals desire to obtain in handling scripture. This leads to a crisis of authority. Who is right? How do we settle what is correct? Who has the right to determine what is acceptable for evangelicals to believe? This is the issue of “control” over institutions and whose theological legacy will be continued. This is why, in my opinion, this theological discussion is so politicized.

1.3 For some, it seems to undermine their confidence in divine providence.

Who has affirmed dynamic omniscience and the open future in history?

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John Sanders

Updated April 2013

Briefly, the position is that God has exhaustive knowledge of the past and the present and knows as possibilities and probabilities those events which might happen in the future. God could have created a world in which he knew exactly what we would do in the future if God had decided to create a deterministic world. Consequently, God cannot know as definite what we will do unless he destroys the very freedom he granted us. Vincent Brümmer writes: “God knows everything which it is logically possible to know. But God knows all things as they are, and not as they are not. Thus he knows the future as future (and not as present, which it is not). He knows the possible as possible (and not as actual, which it is not).”1 God does not possess exhaustive definite foreknowledge (EDF) of future contingent events.

Aristotle put forth the problem of the truth value of future contingent propositions (De Interprtatione 9), claiming that they could be neither true nor false. There were questions about how to interpret Aristotle’s remarks which led to lively debate among those who discussed this question. The issues involved in divine foreknowledge were much discussed by philosophers after Aristotle.

The dynamic omniscience view was affirmed by several non-Christian writers such as Cicero (first century B.C.E.) Alexander of Aphrodisias (second century C.E.) and Porphyry (third century).2  Cicero  argued that if God has exhaustive definite foreknowledge (EDF) then humans cannot have libertarian freedom so Cicero denied EDF.3

For the reasons used to support belief in an exhaustively definite future in both secular Greco-Roman thought and in Christianity see “Motivations for Ascribing Foreknowledge to God” by Gregory Boyd on this website.

Commenting on the work of Aristotle, Boethius and several medieval theologians held that statements about the future lack truth value yet they also held that God has exhaustive definite foreknowledge (EDF).4 Also, Boethius (see Consolations, 5.4), Augustine (City of God, 5.9.37-9), Bonaventure and Aquinas are familiar with the dynamic omniscience position of Cicero (see W. Craig, Problem of Divine Forekowledge, 59). Boethius also knows about Alexander of Aphrodisias who produced an argument similar to Cicero’s. Boethius and other Christians were more concerned to deflect the charge that Christianity implied fatalism rather than about Aristotle’s question regarding the truth value of future propositions. It was charged that if the God of the Bible predicts some future events, then the future must be determined.

These authors produce an array of solutions to the problem and those after them critique these answers and either modify them or offer new proposals. Most seem aware of the dynamic omniscience view but think that it either (1) fails to explain biblical predictions or (2) would imply that God has changing knowledge which would undermine their understanding of divine immutability. The great Aquinas (thirteen century) argues that if God is temporal (experiences changes of any kind) then the only options are determinism or dynamic omniscience. He says that a temporal God can only have EDF (exhaustive definite foreknowledge) if all is determined from prior causes. This is why he rejects the simple foreknowledge view because he thinks it removes human freedom. Another factor, for Aquinas, is that “the future does not exist and is therefore not knowable in itself” because it lacks being (Summa Theologica For Aquinas, the simple foreknowledge view of the church fathers (the same view what will become dominant in Arminian and Wesleyan circles) is deterministic. He believes that if God is temporal and humans have freedom then one should affirm the dynamic omniscience view. However, Thomas argues that since God is timelessness God can know an exhaustive definite future without it being determined. The important point here is that Aquinas thought the dynamic omniscience view was a legitimate option and he thought it should be affirmed if God is temporal and humans are free.

After Boethius, the mighty river of EDF followed the channel of divine timelessness though there were a few other channels such as divine determinism. However, in recent Christian philosophy the flow in the channel of timelessness has been seriously reduced in favor of dynamic omniscience and middle knowledge

The earliest Christian proponent thus far found is Calcidius (late fourth century).5 He wrote several books one of which is against fatalism and determinism (this work did not become well known until the middle ages). In it he says that since God knows reality as it is he knows necessary truths necessarily and future contingent truths contingently.6  Some Medieval Christian writers anticipate and seem to affirm an open future: Peter Auriol (thirteenth century) and Peter de Rivo (fifteenth century).

Some Islamic scholars affirmed dynamic omniscience: some in the Qadarite school (eighth century) and Abd al-Jabbar, an important figure of the Mu’tazilite school (tenth century).7 In Judaism the view has been widely held. God’s statement to Abraham “Now I know that you fear me” (Gen 22:12) was much discussed by Medieval Jewish theologians, a number of whom affirmed dynamic omniscience and the open future including the renowned Ibn Ezra in the twelfth century and Gersonides (Levi ben Gerson) in the fourteenth.8

John Miley claims that some of the Remonstrants (Dutch followers of Arminius) advocated it in the sixteenth century.9 The Anabaptist Fausto Socinus affirmed it though he, unfortunately, also denied many traditional Christian beliefs such as the deity of Christ and the trinity.10  If one tries to discredit open theism because a heretic affirmed the same view of omniscience then should the Reformation be discredited because this same heretic affirmed several of the key tenets of Calvin?

In the early eighteenth century, Samuel Fancourt published several works defending the dynamic omniscience view including Liberty, Grace and Prescience and latter, in 1730, What Will Be Must Be. He argues that the issue is not about the scope of God’s knowledge but about the nature of reality: are contingencies real or not? Andrew Ramsay (1748) put forth a variant of this position, claiming that though the future is knowable and so God could know it, God has chosen not to exercise this ability in order to preserve human freedom. John Wesley (1785) reprinted Ramsay’s material on this in Wesley’s Arminian Magazine.11

The position became much discussed in Methodism from the latter eighteenth into the twentieth century.12 In the early nineteenth century the well known Methodist biblical commentator, Adam Clarke (1831), defended it as did the well-known circuit preacher Billy Hibbard (1843).13

Hibbard says that he learned of the view from an article in a Methodist magazine but he develops the position much more than the Methodists before him. In the latter nineteenth century Lorenzo D. McCabe, a Methodist theologian, wrote two large, detailed works covering every biblical text relevant to foreknowledge (for example, Peter’s denial) as well as numerous theological arguments.14 According to McCabe, dynamic omniscience was widely affirmed by British and German theologians of his day and he cites other Methodists who held the view. In America, McCabe’s publications sparked a significant discussion in Methodist circles that lasted several decades.15 John Miley, an influential Methodist and contemporary of McCabe, speaks highly of McCabe’s work in his Systematic Theology (which was widely used well past the middle of the twentieth century). Though Miley affirmed prescience (foreknowledge) he recognizes a key problem that he does not know how to answer: How can God interact with us in reciprocal relationships if God has prescience? He says that if belief in an interactive God is contradictory to prescience then he will give up prescience. He goes on to say that belief in dynamic omniscience would not undermine any vital Methodist doctrines and would, in fact, free Methodism from the perplexity of divine foreknowledge and human freedom.16

Quite a number of articles and books affirming open theism from people in various denominations appeared in the nineteenth century (see the “Open Theism Timeline” chart). These folks affirmed traditional Christian orthodoxy and were generally evangelical in orientation. Edward Pearson (1811). Verax (1818), James Bromley (1820), John Briggs (1825), James Jones (two books 1828, 1829), Onesimus (1828), John Bonsall (1830), Richard Dillon (1834), Robert Bartley (1839), Joseph Barken (1846), William Robinson (1866), James Morison (1867), William Taylor (1868), Hans Martinsen (1874), J. P. LaCroix (1876), J. J. Smith (1885), Thomas Crompton (1879), Isaiah Kephart (1883), B. F. White (1884), J. J. Miles (1885), Joseph Lee (1889), J. S. Brecinridge (1890), W. G. Williams (1891), H. C. Burr (1893), William Major (1894), S. Hubbard (1894), J. Wallace Webb (1896), D. W. Simon (1898), and H. J. Zelley (1900).

In the mid nineteenth century, the great German theologian, Isaak Dorner, argued that “the classical doctrine of immutability” is inconsistent with Scripture, sound reason, and spiritual living because it rules out reciprocal relations between God and creatures. He argues for dynamic omniscience saying that a consistent view of God working with us in history requires that God knows future free acts of creatures as possibilities, not actualities.17

In 1890 Joel S. Hayes published The Foreknowledge of God, a lengthy volume examining the scriptural evidence and theological arguments for foreknowledge and concluded that dynamic omniscience was a superior explanation.18  In the opening chapter, he writes The design of this treatise is to deny and disprove the commonly received doctrine that God, from all eternity, foreknew whatsoever has come to pass. This doctrine, it seems to me, is contrary to reason and Scripture, and is in the highest degree dishonoring to the high and holy One that inhabiteth eternity.” T. W. Brents of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement dedicated a chapter of his “biblical” theology to the defense of dynamic omniscience. His book was influential in the Churches of Christ for many decades.19

In the latter nineteenth century many people defended the view including Rowland G. Hazard and the Catholic writer Jules Lequyer.20 Proponents also include less orthodox thinkers such as Gustave. T. Fechner, Otto Pfleiderer, William James, and Edgar S. Brightman.21

Theologians include Jürgen Moltmann, Paul Fides, and Michael Welker.22 Contemporary Dutch Reformed theologians such as Vincent Brümmer, Hendrikus Berkhof and Adrio König affirm it as do the American Reformed thinkers Nicholas Wolterstorff and Harry Boer.23 Other theologians include Thomas Finger (Mennonite), W. Norris Clarke (Roman Catholic), Brian Hebblethwaite, Robert Ellis, Kenneth Archer (Pentecostal) Barry Callen (Church of God), German theologian Heinzpeter Hempelmann and perhaps Albert Truesdale (Nazarene).24 Major Jones claims that the position is well known in the African-American tradition.25

The dynamic omniscience view is exceedingly popular among analytic philosophers who affirm orthodox Christianity. Quite a number of the luminaries among Christian philosophers assert it: Richard Swinburne (Oxford), William Hasker, David Basinger, Peter Van Inwagen (Notre Dame), J. R. Lucas, Peter Geach, Richard Purtill, A. N. Prior, and Keith Ward.26  It is also affirmed by Nicholas Wolterstorff (formerly of Calvin and Yale) and Vincent Brümmer (Dutch Reformed).27 Several philosophers contributed to a book on open theism and science: Dean Zimmerman, Robin Collins, Alan Rhoda, David Woodruff, and Jeffrey Koperski.28  Timothy O’Connor (Indiana University) also affirms the openness model.29 Though there remain defenders of both theological determinism and simple foreknowledge, it seems that the majority of Christian philosophers who publish on the subject today believe that the main options are middle knowledge and dynamic omniscience.

Acclaimed physicist and theologian, John Polkinghorne, holds it as does mathematician D. J. Barholomew and physicist Arthur Peacocke.30

For those interested in biblical support for the dynamic omniscience view, the most important work is by Hebrew Bible scholar, Terrence Fretheim, who has over a dozen publications that document in detail the biblical support for this view of omniscience.31

John Goldingay, professor of Old Testament at Fuller Seminary, has defended it in his Old Testament Theology.32 The work of Boyd and Sanders also contains biblical support.

A number of theologians, philosophers and writers have affirmed the position. Clark Pinnock, Gregory Boyd, Richard Rice, and John Sanders have produced several volumes on the topic.33

Other notable scholars include Dallas Willard, Gabriel Fackre, William Abraham, Paul Borgman, Henry Knight III, Alan Padgett, Tom Oord, and Peter Wagner.34 Researchers and popular writers include Michael Saia, William Pratney, H. Roy Elseth, Gordon C. Olson, Madelline L’Engle, and Brother Andrew.35

The position is affirmed by many YWAM leaders and leaders of the Ichthus church movement in England. Many Pentecostals are supporting it.36 Some leaders in a couple of denominations have spoken in favor of it: the Evangelical Covenant Church and Independent Christian Churches. The organization, Evangelical Educational Ministries, publishes copies of the works of L. D. McCabe and Gordon Olson:

In sum, the dynamic omniscience view was held by a smattering of people until the nineteenth century when serious scholarship begins to be published on it.37

In the latter twentieth century the number of proponents and the amount of quality works setting forth the position has grown exponentially. In part, the view is increasing in popularity in the freewill tradition due to its ability to better explain the biblical texts and give greater intellectual coherence as to how God relates to us.

Some evangelicals do not embrace the open view of omniscience but do arrive at views that have great similarity to it. Gilbert Bilezekian, professor of theology at Wheaton and theological pastor at Willow Creek (he has been Hybels mentor since college) puts forward a view similar to the open view. He claims that God can know what we will do in the future but decides not to know. See his Christianity 101 (Zondervan). Arminian theologian, John Tal Murphy (Taccoa Falls College), interacts with open theism and suggests that though God knows all that will occur in the future God has the ability to “block out of his consciousness” knowledge of what will happen. God can, in effect, “forget” what he knows is going to happen. God does this in order to enter into genuine dialog and interpersonal relations with us. See his, Divine Paradoxes: A Finite View of an Infinite God (Christian Publications, Camp Hill, PA 1998), pp. 49-56. Though I see problems with the views expressed by Bilezekian and Murphy, I am pleased that they understand the problems with simple foreknowledge and, as evangelical Arminians, attempt to find a plausible solution that arrives, for all practical purposes, at a position quite similar to the open view.

In addition, the evangelical Arminian theologian, Jack Cottrell has recently affirmed a temporal version of incremental simple foreknowledge. This view, in my opinion, arrives at precisely the same practical implications for divine providence as the open view. See John Sanders “Is Open Theism a Radical Revision or Miniscule Modification of Arminianism?” Wesleyan Theological Journal 38.2 (Fall 2003): 69-102.

Open Creation and the Redemption of the Environment

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by John Sanders
Wesleyan Theological Journal. Vol. 47 Number 1 Spring 2012

At a conference in Chicago in 2004, and after I had presented a paper on open theism, a Lutheran theologian asked, “What about rocks and trees in open theism?” My response was that the proponents of this model of God would love to apply open theism to such topics, but to date had been preoccupied with gaining a place at the theological table. That was then. Circumstances have changed. The time has come for the application.

The Open Theistic Perspective

Open theism as a theological movement now is sufficiently established that its proponents do not have to spend all their energies defending it. They can now explore the implications of the model for various topics. This is what this essay proposes to do. I will first summarize the open theistic perspective, then examine the nature of creation, the nature of redemption, and conclude with a discussion of the relationship between creation and redemption, with special attention to environmental concerns. Open theism is a model of God which affirms that God, in an act of self-Limitation, created beings ex nihilo with the intention that creatures would come to experience the love inherent in the Trinity.1 Though omnipotent, God exercises a type of sovereignty which grants considerable independence to creatures. God is “open” in two important senses. First, God is open to what creatures bring about-God is affected by creatures. Second, God is open to the future in that, even for God, there is more than one possible future. God has “dynamic omniscience,” meaning that God knows all the past and present as definite and God knows the future as possibilities. Also, God has chosen to rely upon creatures for many aspects of life and history. Consequently, God takes risks because not everything in creation goes the way God specifically wants it to go. God has often had to adjust divine plans and implement flexible strategies in light of what creatures have done with their freedom.

The Nature of Creation and God

With this basic understanding in mind, we can now proceed to a discussion of the nature of creation. Though open theism upholds creation ex nihilo, I want to point out that creation is more than simply the production of matter. In fact, creation should not be understood as a one-time event in the past which God preserves, but also as a beginning with a dynamic structure that enables the creation itself to produce new beings, events, and relations. In the Genesis accounts, the original creation contained some structure and was reliable, but it was not static or complete because God did not desire that it remain as it was.2 That creation is ongoing is seen in the divine can for plants and animals to multiply. With this shaping of the world in ways that are not predetermined, the earth will be different than it was at the beginning. God empowers creatures to bring about states of affairs that did not exist at the beginning. When humans, for instance, begin to occupy .. the land (Genesis 1 :28) that will take on characteristics it did not have on the seventh day. God chooses to bring about a world in which God is not the only one who makes things new and different. In this respect, creation is “open” because God instantiated a reliable but not fixed or static creation, which in some significant respects is open-ended. The empowerment of creatures implies that God is a “power-sharing” deity. God calls upon the waters and the land to produce that which did not exist. Next, God cans upon the plants and animals to procreate. That God does not do the procreating for the creatures suggests that the creatures have now become creators, resembling God in that they also bring forth new beings. Humans in particular are given a vocation to be God’s regents to tend the earth in God’s stead. In this respect, human vocation is necessary for the continuance of at least some aspects of creation.3 God entered upon a journey with creatures, one for which the outcome was neither predetermined nor foreknown. God works with creatures to bring about new realities.

An aspect of divine creation often overlooked is that God is not simply creator in the sense of producing matter. The story of God’s activity in the Bible depicts God working to produce new social, religious, political, and economic realities. That God is creator in these important areas of life will be useful later in this paper to connect the doctrines of creation and redemption. Having discussed the nature of creation we now move to an open theist understanding of redemption.

The Nature of Redemption

God took a risk in granting relative independence to creatures, and the risk has brought negative results. Creation has miscarried. Sin mars all the spheres of divine creativity just mentioned: our relationship to God, to the physical world as well as our relations with other humans.4 Each of the areas harmed by sin requires reconciliation and healing, which is why the New Testament contains a plethora of images regarding redemption and atonement5 Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are the touchstones by which Christians align their life stories with that of Jesus. Jesus models loving ways of relating to others, overcomes hate with forgiveness, and is the ground of hope that destruction and death can be overcome. The incarnation and resurrection are creative acts of God by which new possibilities for the world arise. The resurrection of Jesus and the sending of the Holy Spirit are indications of an inaugurated eschatology in which the “new creation” has already begun but is not yet completed. The eschatological future has broken in to the present. The renewal of the heavens and the earth and the various aspects of life contained therein are granted the possibility of redemption. Accordingly, I will briefly explore elements of this redemption.

1. Reconciliation of Sinful Creatures. First, redemption involves a reconciliation of sinful creatures to God (not God to creatures) as well as the reconciliation of creatures to one another. Second, redemption is addressed to whole persons and this includes bodies and minds rather than simply “souls.” The New Testament writers did not concentrate on getting immaterial substances to heaven after death. Rather, they were concerned with the welfare of embodied persons as seen by their discussions of such things as food, clothing, and employment Third, sin has infected all of the relationships in which we find ourselves, but God is working to heal the diseased relations by creating communities who work to overcome sinful racial, socio-economic, and gendered structures (Galatians 3:28). Fourth, the renewal which began in the resurrection of Jesus continues to spread and one day will culminate in a renewed heaven and earth in which there is no sin to fracture our relationships. The new creation has been inaugurated and God calls us to cooperate with the mission of God. One day the mission will be completed.

If salvation involves bodies, then it involves the physical order. However, many Christians believe that, although the “new” creation involves resurrected human bodies, it means the destruction of the physical world as it presently exists. Such a view can lead to a lack of concern for the environment. Two points should be made in response to this view. First, redemption is not the annihilation of creation but rather its renewal. Just as human bodies are not annihilated when they experience salvation in Jesus. so the present heaven and earth will not be annihilated but renewed. It is common for biblical scholars to point out that, in the passages about the new creation, “new” means new in quality in contrast to the old. Evangelicals in North America typically believe that ”the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10). That is, God is going to annihilate the present physical creation. However, this understanding is based on a mistranslation because the text should read: ”the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.”6 The Greek word for what is translated “burned up” or “disclosed” is heureskein, which means to find out.7 God is going to reveal the truth about what has happened by refining creation, not destroying it.

2. Don’t Contribute to Creation’s Destruction. The second element of redemption is that, even if one remains convinced that the present world is going to be destroyed by God, there are reasons why Christians should not contribute to the destruction of the environment now. To begin, even if God is going to destroy it, there is no biblical warrant for anyone but God doing so. There is no biblical call to collaborate with God in destroying the planet, but there is biblical warrant for caring for the environment. Also, wanton contamination of the environment conflicts with the mission of Jesus. If Jesus is the model for the Christian life and Jesus healed the sick, then we ought to be involved in healing fractured relationships as well as broken bodies. Contamination of the environment fosters sickness rather than healing. If our discarded electronic devices end up in areas where poor people live and the heavy metals seep into the water supply poisoning the people who live there, then we are helping to make them sick. In the United States, cases of asthma are sharply increasing because of high levels of particles in the air. Coal-fired power plants in the northern United States produce acid rain which pollutes the lakes with high levels of mercury, and this eventually makes its way to humans via fish. Thus, we are slowly making our neighbors sick instead of helping to heal them. With this summary of an openness understanding of creation and redemption in hand, we can now address some specific issues. First, how should the relationship between creation and salvation be understood? Several items come into play here. To begin, creation is not a one time event but is an ongoing process. The history of evolution manifests the ongoing and unfinished nature of divine creation. As mentioned above, God’s original creation included a dynamic infrastructure with its own autonomy that allows for the creation of new beings, events, and types of relations. Next, the freedom of the creation entailed divine risk. The creation has taken some bad turns and now is deeply defaced by sin. Creation is the framework within which sin arises and it also is the framework in which redemption is carried out.

Furthermore, God is creator, not just of original matter, but also in the social, religious, and other areas of human existence. Sin has also distorted these aspects of divine creation. Consequently, redemption is understood as a particular dimension of God’s creative work in order to bring about a renewed creation transforming all of its dimensions, physical and social. Also, according to Paul, the Son of God, the redeemer, is also the one through whom God created the universe (Colossians 2: 16). The trinitarian God who worked to create us is the same God who works to redeem us. God has not given up on his creation but desires to renew it. The spoiled creation is the subject of God’s redemptive work, so creation and salvation cannot be isolated from one another. But neither can they be collapsed into each other because God did not create in order to redeem it. Sin was not part of God’s original design. God has had to adjust the divine plan to include redemption as a means to a new creation.

3. Refuse An Escapist Eschatology. Another issue is how to avoid an escapist eschatology which obliterates hope for this earth. Openness theology affirms the majority of traditional Christian teachings, including the resurrection of bodies to new life. Salvation is understood to include both the redemption of all spheres of life on earth as well as continued life with God after death in the new heavens and earth. Many proponents of open theism are evangelicals and many evangelicals believe that God is going to destroy the earth. Some interpret this to mean that, if God is going to destroy the earth, then it is not within our power to destroy it. Hence, they believe we can pollute and use up the natural resources because God will not allow the planet to be destroyed before the time set for its destruction.

It was mentioned above that this idea of God’s coming destruction of the creation is based on a mistranslation of a biblical text. An additional problem is that this false idea leads many evangelicals to conclude that God will take care of everything, so we need not do anything. God will miraculously overcome any problem we develop. One student voiced this sentiment when he said, “If we run out of oil, God will just make more.” The Calvinist theologian Calvin Beisner defends this notion by appeal to the Old Testament story of how God miraculously created more oil for a widow in order to pay off her debts (2 Kings 4: l-7).8 Because, says Beisner, nature is not a closed system for God, we can rest assured that God will not let us run out of natural resources. I reject such an idea as unbiblical.

4. Polarities To Be Avoided. Open theism seeks to avoid two polarities in this regard. They are the evangelical belief that God will take care of everything and the process theology belief that God will take care of nothing.9 Against the notion that God will resolve all of the problems unilaterally, openness affirms that God has granted a great deal of independence to creatures. Above, it was said that God decided to rely on humans by giving us a vocation that is necessary for the continuance of creation. God bas given us a task and we are failing God in some significant respects. We have seriously damaged God’s work and failed to achieve the mission entrusted to us by God. Yet, God has not thrown in the towel but has chosen to work to redeem creation.

Just as God elected to rely on creatures to continue the work of creation, God has decided to work through us rather than alone (e. g., to evangelize and feed the hungry). This means that God has chosen to be dependent upon our actions for a great many aspects of life. Does this mean that we could contaminate the environment to such an extent as to make life untenable? Since God has not prevented us from wreaking horrible wars, draughts, and the like, this seems a reasonable conclusion. It seems that God has chosen to solicit our cooperation in the divine work of redemption rather than simply doing it by God’s own self.10 Since God decided to make some important features of the continuance of creation dependent upon human vocation, the view that God is in total control and what humans do is irrelevant must be rejected.

The second polarity is process theology’s lack of eschatological hope that God will bring about the new heavens and new earth. The God of process theology cannot unilaterally cause an electron to move, so the preservation of the planet is decidedly on our shoulders, not God’s. The openness of God model affirms divine omnipotence and insists that God can work unilaterally within creation.11 The biblical record testifies that God has historically bought about that which did not exist on a number of occasions. Hence, we are not totally on our own. Proponents of open theism live in the tension between the two polarities of evangelical escapist theology and the lack of hope in process theology.

Salvation and Environmental Threats

How we understand salvation in the context of environmental threats is critical. For open theism, salvation entails both vertical and horizontal aspects. Redemption involves both our incorporation into the divine life and as our relations with other creatures. Again, two polarities need to be avoided: that salvation is only about getting to heaven or it is only about healing the planet. The “Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation” says: “We resist both ideologies which would presume the Gospel has nothing to do with the care of non-human creation and also ideologies which would reduce the Gospel to nothing more than the care of that creation.”12 Open theists believe that redemption is about both this life and the next because the salvation already begun will not be complete until God resurrects us to a renewed bodily life in the new heavens and earth. Open theists go beyond the process ideas of ”objective immortality” (God has eternal memories of what we were) or “subjective immortality” (the survival of a disembodied soul). Jesus was raised bodily from the dead confirming both that death has not the final word and that God continues to value physical existence.

ln addition to this eschatological embodiment, open theists affirm that salvation requires the transformation of embodied existence, not just the salvation of “souls.” Salvation engages every sphere of life affected by sin: economic, political, and environmental. James says that true religion is caring for widows and orphans (1:27) as well as feeding and clothing the poor (2:15). Paraphrasing James, we might ask how one can claim to love one’s neighbor while at the same time acting in ways that necessarily pollute the air and water supplies of our neighbors. The redemption of creation includes both salvation of individuals and healing of the environment because God wants to redeem every sphere of life affected by sin. God works to redeem whole persons, and the way we treat the environment affects our embodied neighbors. The renewed heavens and earth means the continuation of God’s physical creation, but in a transformed state in which we, as embodied beings, live appropriately with all other embodied beings. If God cares for embodied existence on this planet and will not give up on it, then neither should we. If divine dominion is enacted not by exploiting the land but by caring for it, then human dominion, which should image God’s dominion, should also care for it.13


The Hexagon of Opposition: Thinking Outside the Aristotelian Box

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Gregory A. Boyd, Thomas Belt, Alan Rhoda
Original PDF may be downloaded here: The Hexagon of Opposition: Thinking Outside the Aristotelian Box

It has traditionally been believed that omniscience means God’s knowledge of the future may be expressed exclusively in terms of what either will or will not come to pass. One common line of reasoning supporting this traditional belief is the following:

P1:       All propositions are either true or false (bivalence).

P2:       God knows the truth value of all propositions (omniscience).

P3:       The future can be exhaustively described in terms of what either will or will not come to pass.

C:        Therefore, God knows the future exclusively as that which either will or will not come to pass.

The argument is formally valid. Accordingly, those who deny the conclusion (C), such as open theists, have to deny one or more of the premises.  Some deny the first premise (P1) and argue that propositions expressing future contingencies are neither true nor false.  Others deny the second premise (P2), arguing that the truth value of propositions about future contingencies is logically impossible to know and thus not within the domain of God’s omniscience. For reasons too involved to explore presently, we find both positions to be problematic.1 We also deem such moves unnecessary to the denial of the conclusion (C), for, we shall argue, the third premise (P3) can be plausibly denied. This premise, we maintain, is arbitrarily restrictive. There are three, not two, distinct modes in terms of which future events may be described. It may be that (1) a future event S will obtain and it may be (2) that S will not  obtain. Both of these possibilities are countenanced by P3.  What P3 overlooks, however, is that it may also be the case (3) that S might and  might not  obtain.

If we grant that there are three, not two, distinct modes in terms of which future events may be described, then it is not the case that the future can be truly described solely in terms of what either will or will not come to pass.  And if, in fact, the future cannot be truly described solely in terms of what either will or will not come to pass, then it follows that an omniscient God will not know the future solely in terms of what either will or will not come to pass. Rather, an omniscient God must also know the future partly in terms of what might and might not come to pass.

To say that S might and might not  obtain is to say that S’s obtaining is indeterminate— neither inevitable nor impossible.  The logical possibility of S being indeterminate is implicit in the structure of a future-tense Square of Opposition modeled after the traditional Square of Opposition from Aristotelian categorical logic.  But this possibility has been largely overlooked in Western philosophy which has tended to assume that the future could be expressed solely in terms of what either will or will not  come to pass.  The structure of the Square is partly to blame, for it fails to make the logical possibility of genuine indeterminacy sufficiently explicit.  When we make this possibility explicit, we find that the Square of Opposition transforms into a Hexagon of Opposition, in light of which it becomes clear how one may affirm genuine indeterminacy and thus deny (C) while at the same time affirming bivalence (P1) as well as God’s knowledge of the truth value of all propositions (P3).

In this essay we first show how the future-tense Square of Opposition allows for the possibility of a partly indeterminate future (I).  We then point out two problems with the Square with respect to its ability to handle future indeterminacy (II).  Following this, we demonstrate how a consistent working out of the logic of the Square leads to a future-tense Hexagon of Opposition (III). After highlighting several advantages of the Hexagon over the Square (IV) we conclude by applying insights gained from the Hexagon to assess the assumption (P3) that the future can be exhaustively described in terms of what either will or will not come to pass as well as the conclusion (C) that God knows the future exclusively as that which either will or will not come to pass.

I. Indeterminacy and the Square of Opposition

We begin by considering the Square of Opposition as it concerns  S’s obtaining.


Now, several observations about the Square’s treatment of S’s obtaining are worth noting.2 On the standard interpretation of the Square, the contraries “S will obtain” and “S will not obtain” cannot be conjointly true, but they may be conjointly false. Conversely, while the subcontraries “S might obtain” and “S might not obtain” cannot be conjointly false, they may be conjointly true.  Most significantly, we must note that when both subcontraries “might” and “might not” are true, contraries “will” and “will not” are both false, for “S will obtain” and “S might not obtain” are contradictories, as are “S will not obtain” and “S might obtain.”

These observations already expose the arbitrary restrictiveness of P3, for P3 simply denies that propositions expressing conjointly true subcontraries “might” and “might not” are ever true.3  To say the same thing a different way, P3 denies that propositions expressing the logically possible negation of both contraries “will” and “will not” are ever true. P3 mistakenly treats the contraries “will” and “will not” as though they were contradictories, subject to the law of excluded middle, and thus assumes that they together exhaust the logical possibilities. P3 reflects the traditional tendency to insist that either it is true that “S will obtain” or it is true “S will not obtain,” as though these two possibilities were mutually exhaustive, which is why it supports the traditional conclusion that God, by virtue of knowing the truth value of all propositions, necessarily knows whether S will or will not obtain.  According to the Square, however, it may be false that “S will obtain” and false that “S will not obtain,” just in case it is true that “S might and might not obtain.” Again, “will” and “will not” are contraries, not contradictories, so while both cannot be true, both may be false. And “might” and “might not” are subcontraries, not contraries, so both cannot be false, but both may be true.

Of course, S will end up either obtaining or not. But, as the Square reveals, this does not imply that it is now true that either “S will obtain” or “S will not obtain.” The logical possibility of a true proposition expressing conjoined subcontraries reveals that the truth condition of future tense propositions is not found in what eventually comes to pass but in the state of things at the time the truth claim is made.

To illustrate, the truth condition of the statement, “Hillary will be president in 2008,” uttered in 2004, is not found in the as yet non-existent state of reality in 2008, but in the state of reality in 2004. Is it in fact determinately the case in 2004 that Hillary will be president in 2008? The statement is false just in case it is either determinately the case in 2004 that Hillary will not be president in 2008 or indeterminately the case in 2004 that Hillary will be president in 2008. The second possibility reflects the state of affairs expressed by conjointly true subcontraries “might and might not” on the traditional Square: “Hillary might and might not be president in 2008.” If in 2004 it is true that Hillary “might and might not” be president in 2008, then it is false in 2004 that Hillary “will” be president in 2008 and false also that she “will not” be President in 2008—even though Hillary will eventually turn out either to be president in 2008 or not.4

This entails, of course, that it is logically possible that God, by virtue of knowing the truth value of all propositions, knows in 2004 that it is false that Hillary will be president in 2008 and knows it is false in 2004 that Hillary will not be president in 2008 just in case God knows in 2004 that Hillary might and might not be president in 2008.

II. Two Shortcomings in the Traditional Square

Why has the western tradition mostly assumed that the future can be exhaustively expressed in terms of what “will” and “will not” come to pass? Why has the logical possibility of future indeterminacy expressed by conjointly true subcontraries “might and might not” been mostly neglected in the western tradition? Why have the contraries “will” and “will not” been treated as though they were contradictories? Part of the explanation, we believe, lies in two curious features of the Square that tend to obscure the logical possibility of future indeterminacy.

First, we should note that while a determinate future can be expressed on the Square by the single propositions “S will obtain” and “S will not obtain,” there is no single proposition expressing future indeterminacy. To express this third possibility, we must conjoin the two subcontraries “might” and “might not.” In other words, determinacy (“will” and “will not”) is given primitive status on the Square, while indeterminacy must be inferred.

This asymmetry between determinacy and indeterminacy perhaps explains why “might” and “might not” have tended to be understood exclusively in terms of their individual subaltern relations to “will” and “will not.” That is, while “will” and “will not” have been allowed to express states of affairs, “might” and “might not” have tended to be limited to expressing merely the epistemological preconditions of those two determinate states. If it is true that “S will obtain,” it must also be true that “S might obtain,” viz. it must be possible for S to obtain. So too, for it to be true that “S will not obtain,” it must also be true that “S might not obtain,” viz. it must be possible for S not to obtain.

But what has not been adequately appreciated in the western tradition is that the subcontraries “might” and “might not” may be conjointly true and the contraries “will” and “will not” conjointly false. In this case, “might” and “might not” are no longer related as subalterns to “will” and “will not.” Rather, when they are conjointly true, they have the same relation to “will” and “will not” that “will” and “will not” have to each other.  In other words, they express a third distinct possibility –future indeterminacy – that stands in a contrary relationship to both the positive future determinacy expressed by “will” and the negative future determinacy expressed by “will not.”  For any possible future state of affairs, one of the three – “will,” “will not” and “might and might not” – must be true and the other two false.

But, because “might” and “might not” must be conjoined to play this third, indeterminate, contrary role, the possibility of their playing this role has been largely overlooked. Consequently, the possibility that the future is in some respects indeterminate and known by God as such has been largely overlooked.

There is a second, closely related observation we need to make about the Square. If we begin with the truth of one of the two determinate contrary poles, we can know the truth value of the other three poles. If, for example, “S will obtain” is true, then the subaltern “S might obtain” must also be true while both “S will not obtain” and “S might not obtain” must be false, the former because it is the contrary of “S will obtain” and the latter because it is its contradictory. By contrast, if we begin with a true “might,” we can only know that its contradictory “will not” is false. We can know nothing regarding the truth values of “will” and “might not.” It could be that “will” is true and “might not” false, or it could be that “might not” is true and “will” is false. The same applies if we begin with a true “might not,” in which case the contradictory “will” is false and either “might” is true and “will not” false or “will not” is true and “might” is false.

In other words, the Square allows us to falsify “will” with a single proposition—a “might not”—while leaving open the question as to the truth values of “might” and “will not.” The Square also allows us to falsify “will not” with a single proposition — “might” — while leaving open the question as to the truth values of “might not” and “will.” But, though the Square allows us to express “might and might not” through conjoined subcontraries, it gives us no way of falsifying this state of affairs while leaving open the question as to the truth values of “will” and “will not.” “In other words, to know that it is false that “S might and might not obtain,” we must know that either “S will obtain” is true and “S will not obtain” is false or that “S will obtain” is false and “S will not obtain” true.

To achieve parity with the three truth claims the Square allows for, we must be able to falsify “might and might not” while leaving open the question of the truth values of the other two truth claims (will” and “will not”).  Yet, to achieve this requires a fundamental revisioning of the Square, for we must posit a single proposition expressing “might and  might not” just as we have for “will” and “will not,” and it must have the same relation to “will” and “will not” that they have with each other. What is more, we must posit a single contradictory proposition to “might and might not” which, by virtue of being true, can falsify “ might and might not,” just as “will” and “will not” can each be  falsified by a single contradictory proposition  (“might not” and  “might). This, we shall soon see, transforms the Square of Opposition into a Hexagon of opposition.

As with our first observation, the lack of parity between “will” and “will not,” on the one hand, and “might and might not,” on the other, reveals a prejudice toward determinacy within the traditional Square. The Square logically allows for indeterminacy but does not treat it on a par with determinacy. And given how influential the Square has been to the development of Western thought, we suspect that this inadequacy may help explain why the tradition has tended to assume that the future is exhaustively expressible in terms of what will and will not come to pass and thus that God knows the future exhaustively in terms of what will and will not come to pass.


III. The Hexagon of Opposition

We wish to explore a model that grants indeterminacy the same propositionally singular status as determinacy. Toward this end, we will use Q as a primitive operator meaning “It is indeterminately the case that…” alongside primitive operator Z meaning, “It is determinately the case that…”. We will also revise the Square in such a way that Q will be granted the same logical status as Z.

As we have stated, there are three, not two, distinct modes of being that may characterize the future. Using Q and Z as defined, we arrive at:


Z(S) = It is determinately the case that state of affairs S occur (“S will obtain”)

Z(~S) = It is determinately the case that state of affairs not-S occur (“S will not obtain”)

Q(S) = It is indeterminately the case that state of affairs S occur (“S might and might not obtain”)


Each of these propositions affirms a distinct metaphysical possibility concerning any possible future state of affairs. These possibilities are jointly exhaustive and mutually exclusive. As jointly exhaustive, at least one must be true for any meaningful future tensed proposition.  meaningful future tense proposition. Thus we arrive at our first theorem:


  1. (S) [(Z(S) Ú Z (~S) Ú Q(S)].


As mutually exclusive, if any one is true, then the other two must be false, giving us three additional theorems:


  1. Z(S) « ~Z(~S) Ù ~Q(S)
  2. Z(~S) « ~Z(S) Ù ~Q(S)
  3. Q(S) « ~Z(S) Ù ~Z(~S)


Because no two can be true at the same time, while any two can be false at the same time, these three possibilities are related as contraries, which we can represent by the following Triangle of Contrary Relations.


This Triangle of Contrary Relations generates a Triangle of Subcontrary Relations when we associate each possibility with its contradictory.  Consider first Z(S) (“It is determinately the case that state of affairs S obtain”). The contradictory of Z(S) is, of course, ~Z(S) (“It is not determinately the case that state of affairs S obtain”) and can be illustrated as follows:



The contradictory of Z(~S) (“It is determinately the case that state of affairs not-S obtain”) is ~Z (~S) (“It is not determinately the case that state of affairs not-S obtain”) which we locate opposite its contradictory:



Lastly, the contradictory of Q(S) (“It is indeterminately the case that state of affairs S obtain”) is ~Q(S) (“It is not indeterminately the case that state of affairs S obtain”), illustrated as follows:


Note that the first two propositions above, Z(S) and Z(~S) (“will” and “will not”) and their contradictories are explicit on the traditional Square. But the third proposition, Q(S) (“might and might not”) and its contradictory ~Q(S) have now been made explicit.

Now let’s consider how the contradictories (~Z(S), ~Z (~S) and ~Q(S) are related to each other. Consider the pair ~Z(S) and ~Z(~S). Since Q(S) entails both ~Z(S) and ~Z(~S) (by Theorem IV), it is clear that they are conjointly true when Q(S) is true. It is equally clear that ~Z(S)and ~Z(~S) cannot be conjointly false. For if ~Z(S) is false, then Z(S) is true, and if ~Z(~S) is false, then Z(~S) is true. But Z(S) and Z(~S) cannot be conjointly true (by Theorems II and III), so ~Z(S) and ~Z(~S) cannot be conjointly false. The same results obtain mutatis mutandis for the other pairs, (~Z(S) and ~Q(S); ~Z(~S) and ~Q(S). So, for each pair, it is possible that both be true and not possible that both be false, which means that they are subcontraries. We thus arrive at a Triangle of Subcontraries overlapping with the Triangle of Contrary Relations.



Thus far we have considered contrary, contradictory, and subcontrary relations. There remains one more logical relation to consider, namely, subaltern relations, which run outward from Z(S), Z(~S), and Q(S). We already know from the Square that ~Z(~S) is the subaltern of Z(S). Thus, if Z(S) (“will”) is true, the subaltern ~Z(~S) (“might”) is necessarily true. The same now applies to the relationship between Z(S) and the adjacent ~Q(S) (“not ‘might and might not’”). If Z(S) is true, ~Q(S) must be true. Likewise, if Z(~S) (“will not”) is true, the subaltern ~Z(S) (“might not”) is also true. The same subaltern relationship exists between Z(~S) and ~Q(S). If Z(~S) is true, ~Q(S) must be true. Lastly, Q(S) (“might and might not”) also has subaltern relations with the adjacent propositions. If Q(S) (“might and might not”) is true, both subalterns ~Z(~S) (“might”) and ~Z(S) (“might not”) are true.

As figure 7 below illustrates, the subaltern relations run from each of the three propositions forming our Triangle of Contrary Relations to each of the propositions forming the Triangle of Subcontrary Relations, completing a Hexagon of Subaltern Relations:



Note that the traditional Square of Opposition is still present in the Hexagon. We have simply enlarged and completed it. Indeed, one should notice that in completing the traditional Square we have uncovered two other intersecting Squares of Opposition, each exhibiting different truth functions but preserving the same logical relations. The traditional Square of Opposition is composed of contraries Z(S) and Z(~S) and subcontraries ~Z(~S) and ~Z(S). A second Square is composed of contraries Z(S) and Q(S) and subcontraries ~Z(S) and ~Q(S). A third Square is composed of Z(~S) and Q(S) and subcontraries ~Q(S) and ~Z(~S). The three squares may be highlighted as follows:



What we have in effect done is complete and correct the future tensed Square by replicating it three times from the vantage point of the three logically possible modes of being that the traditional Square allows for but does not adequately express. As with the traditional Square, the logical possibility of all three modes is implicit in each of the three Squares, but made explicit only when all three Squares are joined together, forming what we call the Hexagon of Opposition. It exhibits all the contrary, subcontrary, contradictory, and subaltern relations associated to the three logically possible modes of being.

IV. The Superiority of the Hexagon of Opposition

We may now more completely and elegantly account for the three logically possible modes of being and thus the truth values of all possible future tense propositions. The Hexagon’s advantages over the traditional Square in expressing future tense propositions include:

1. The Hexagon recognizes indeterminacy as a distinct mode of being about which we may offer true or false propositions (as opposed to the Square which only indirectly recognizes indeterminacy through conjointly true subcontraries). On the Hexagon of Opposition, indeterminacy is expressed by the operator Q, alongside the determinacy operator Z. The Hexagon thus recognizes indeterminacy in the same “propositionally singular” fashion as it recognizes determinacy.

2. Similarly, the Hexagon clarifies all the logical relations between all possible future tense propositions, whereas the traditional Square leaves some of these relations unexpressed. For example, the Hexagon clarifies the important difference between “might” (~Z(~S)) functioning as the subaltern of Z(S) and thus expressing the epistemological condition for  Z (S) and falsifying “ (Z(~S)), on the one hand, and “might” (Q(S)) expressing an indeterminate mode of being, on the other. In other words, the Hexagon illustrates the truth that “might” and “might not” may independently be true or false as the subalterns of Z(S) or Z(~S) respectively, but when conjointly true (Q(S)) their relation to Z(S) and Z(~S) is contrary, not subaltern. As we noted earlier, this distinction is not made by the traditional Square, a fact that we suspect has contributed to the relative neglect of indeterminacy in the western tradition.

3. The Hexagon allows us to falsify Q(S) (indirectly present on the Square through conjointly true “might and might not”) while leaving open the truth values of Z(S) (“will”) and Z(~S) (“will not”). The Square, we have seen, allows this for Z(S) and Z(~S), but not for Q(S). Because the Hexagon places Q(S) on equal, contrary footing with Z(S) and Z(-S), in knowing any one of the three contrary proposition is true, we know the truth value of its contrary, subcontrary, contradictory and subaltern relations. But in knowing any one of the three contrary propositions as false, we leave open the truth value of the other two contraries.

4. By clarifying the difference between the subaltern relations of “might” and “might not” to “will” and “will not” when considered alone, on the one hand, and the contrary relation of “might and might not” to “will” and “will not” when considered conjoined, on the other, the Hexagon makes explicit the present tense truth condition of future tense propositions. The truth value of “S will obtain” or “S will not obtain” or “S might and might not obtain” is located not in what eventually happens, but in what is now the case. Stated otherwise, the Hexagon reveals that the truth of a future tense propositions about future contingents depends on when the truth claim is made.  The Hexagon thereby reveals that the common philosophical assumption that the truth of all future tense propositions is timeless is misguided, for it arbitrarily assumes that all propositions expressing what “might and might not” obtain are false.

What then are we to make of the tenseless proposition, “S obtains at T”? In our view, it is an incomplete proposition in cases where S asserts a contingent state of affairs, for only necessary truths are timeless (viz. necessarily true at every moment). If a statement expressing the proposition “S obtains at T” is uttered prior to T, the statement is actually asserting the proposition “S will obtain at T” and is true just in case S will obtain at T, false that “S will not obtain at T” and false that “S might and might not obtain at T.” If uttered subsequent to T, the statement actually asserts the proposition “S did obtain at T” and is true just in case S did obtain at T and false that “S did not obtain at T.” And if uttered at T, the proposition “S obtains at T” actually asserts “S now obtains” and is true just in case S does in fact now obtain and false that “S does not now obtain.” In other words, the meaning and truth value of a proposition expressing a contingent state of affairs depends on when the claim is made with respect to the time of the event in question.

If the temporal relationship between when a statement is uttered and the contingent state of affairs asserted is not known, there is, strictly speaking, no propositional meaning or truth value to speak of. A tenseless proposition asserting a temporally indexed contingent state of affairs is like the proposition X + 2 = 4 where X is unspecified. If X =2, it is true. If X= 3, if is false. And if X = banana, it is meaningless.  But if X is unspecified, we must simply regard the proposition as incomplete and having no truth value.  So too, “S obtains at T” is incomplete unless we know the temporal relationship between when the proposition is asserted and when the event in question is supposed to obtain (or not) — that is, unless we know whether the proposition is actually asserting “S will obtain at T” or “S did obtain at T” or “S now obtains at T.”

V. Conclusion

We believe that the Hexagon of Opposition has a wide range of applications. One of these, we are convinced, is clarifying the argument we presented at the beginning of this essay. What are we to make of P3? To recall, P3 stated:

The future is exhaustively described in terms of what either will or will not come to pass.

As we have seen, the traditional Square itself demonstrates that this premise is arbitrarily restrictive, for it allows for subcontraries “might” and “might not” to be conjointly true thus rendering their contradictories “will” and “will not” false. But the Square also helps explain why the tradition has tended to assume P3, for it is prejudiced toward determinacy by virtue of not giving indeterminacy equally primitive status with determinacy, as we’ve shown. The Hexagon makes the arbitrariness of P3—and the limitations of the traditional Square that contribute to P3—explicit.

The Hexagon makes it clear that there are no logical grounds for assuming the future can be expressed solely in terms of what “will come to pass” and what “will not come to pass.” From a strictly logical perspective, the future can only be exhaustively expressed in terms of what “will come to pass,” what “will not come to pass” and what “might and might not come to pass.” Hence, the Hexagon makes it explicit that it is at least logically possible that God, by virtue of knowing the truth value of all propositions, knows some of the future as what might and might not come to pass. Just in case “S will obtain” or “S will not obtain” is true, God knows that “S might and might not obtain” is false. And just in case “S might and might not obtain” is true, God knows that both “S will obtain” and “S will not obtain” are false.

Of course, one could hold that while propositions expressing what “might and might not” come to pass (Q(S)) are logically possible, as a matter of fact God has rendered them all false by creating a world in which the future is exhaustively settled and thus known by God as such. True enough. God could have done this. But the Hexagon makes it clear that God could conceivably have done otherwise. And this is enough to demonstrate that P3 is not true a priori and thus that omniscience does not logically entail that God knows the future exhaustively in terms of what will or will not come to pass.

In the final analysis, the extent to which the future is in fact open and/or settled is a contingent matter that must be ascertained on grounds other than pure logic. However, the Hexagon of Opposition clarifies that nothing in logic itself, and thus nothing in the definition of omniscience, constitutes grounds for concluding there are no true “might and might not” propositions. It thus makes explicit that the future is not by definition exhaustively settled and thus that God does not by definition know it as exhaustively settled.

Examining Problems and Assumptions: An Update on Criticisms of Open Theism

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David M. Woodruff 1
Dialog: A Journal of Theology • Volume 47, Number 1 • Spring 2008

Abstract: Open theism, a form of relational theology, has generated a host of criticisms. I examine some of the recent criticisms by analyzing several that center around biblical, doctrinal and philosophical problems. I show how many criticisms miss the mark by failing to recognize and address the underlying assumptions held by open theists.

Key Terms: open theism, atemporal, foreknowledge, molinism.

Open theism is a form of relational theology.2 Relational theologies start with the belief that God desires to be in relationship with creation, and use that belief as a basis for interpretation and explanation of other aspects of the divine nature. I would like to offer an update on criticisms of open theism.3 My approach to these criticisms is rooted in my belief that some form of relational theology is accurate in that it properly represents relationship as a divine value, and then interprets the divine nature and other theological concepts based on this value.4 Thus, open theism makes sense of a wide array of views about God’s nature including God’s purpose, actions, and intentions throughout all creation along with other features of a systematic theology, by locating as central the belief that God values the relationships that the created order offers.5

Because of this, open theists believe creation history is not uniquely determined by the divine creative act. It is “open” in the sense that there is more than one possible outcome in creation. The two most contentious consequences of this are: first, not everything that happens in creation was ordained (or foreordained) by God; and second, God lacks exhaustive definite foreknowledge. According to open theists, God takes risks in achieving the ends or purposes of creation. Furthermore, to some degree, God cannot know the outcome in its totality.6 I would like to present here an update of some additional points of contention. Although there are numerous criticisms I will only examine several typical criticisms organized into three categories: biblical interpretation, doctrine and philosophy.

Biblical Interpretation and Open Theism

There are a number of different criticisms of open theism that claim open theism is unbiblical. Using a verse by verse approach, critics amass a host of verses claiming each one shows that open theism is wrong. One possible response is to provide a verse by verse reply to these criticisms. What an analysis of these criticisms and the respective replies show is that little progress can be made without an independent guide to how we approach such texts.7 The interpretative assumptions we bring to the texts determine how we interpret the texts. Verses offered by critics against open theists are given Openness Friendly Interpretations (OFI) by open theists.8 All this seems to show is that there is not a single universally accepted interpretation of biblical texts. However, when we accept that the meaning of the text is pliable, this does not entail that it will be infinitely pliable.9 What then will guide us in deciding which meanings are acceptable and which are not?

The response critics usually offer is that we should interpret difficult texts using clear or obvious texts. Paul Helm has offered a solution that distinguished weak texts and strong texts.10 Yet critics argue that open theists wrongly elevate weak texts and use them as the basis for incorrectly interpreting strong texts. There is something to be said for the principle offered here, but I do not think it gets the critics what they ultimately want. All of us do interpret texts based on the assumption that some are more basic and fundamental than others, although often enough we do this without consciously being aware of it. We understand difficult texts in light of those that seem to be more clear and basic; what counts as a ‘difficult’ text is determined by what we accept as clear and basic. The problem that critics fail to address is that there are no independent grounds for establishing which texts are to be treated as clear and basic. We cannot approach the text in a perfectly neutral way, and then following some neutral pattern of interpretation, derive from strictly textual grounds the clear and basic texts.11 Instead, what we bring to the texts guides us.

One criterion we use to decide which texts are foundational is the longstanding interpretation of the church, and critics point out that the church tradition does not favor open theism. Notice this is an admission that there is not a single interpretation that we can obtain from the text if we are diligent and honest enough to let the text speak for itself. This rejects the criticism as it was originally given; it is a big shift to which few critics own up. Taken to the extreme, critics argue that open theism was not the view of the biblical writers. One critic recently

quipped that he doubted that Paul was an open theist. His point appeared to be that if we properly understand Paul, we will understand his view of the divine nature; and since Scripture is inspired, we must accept it as correct. While this criticism has significant rhetorical weight, it is actually no better positioned than the earlier criticisms I noted. In short, we must interpret Paul ourselves, and that puts us right back in the position of lacking an independent interpretive key to his texts.

Furthermore, I do think that there are a number of additional problems not being addressed. I am not so sure I agree with the above mentioned critic that it is at all obvious Paul was not an open theist,12 but for the sake of argument, suppose we accept that he was not. The inference from what Paul believed to what we should believe appears to rely on the following principle: “biblical writer X viewed the divine nature to be Y, therefore the divine nature is (obviously) Y.” This is much more problematic than many critics seem to realize. For example, it is not at all clear that Paul or other New Testament writers believed what we do about the structure of the Trinity. I accept a trinitarian view of God’s nature, and I do think there are biblical passages that support this doctrine. However, while Paul had a distinct take on the divine nature compared to his contemporary Jewish thinkers, it is not at all obvious Paul believed the divine trinitarian nature was to be understood in terms the church has accepted since it was worked out at the council of Nicea.13

Considering the Old Testament

Things only get more difficult when we look to the Old Testament. Is there any evidence that Amos was a trinitarian, or that if he were, he thought about it in the concepts defended at Nicea? If not, should we reject the Nicean formulation based on the principle cited above? Furthermore, some scholars have claimed that Moses was a henotheist.14 Yet if this is correct, it does not seem to me that I should be a henotheist as well. The underlying problem with the interpretive principle above is that it is based on a problematic view of inspiration, a view where inspiration so guided the words of the writers that we must attribute to them beliefs that it seems extremely unlikely they would have held.15 If we reject the principle, we face a difficulty, one which it seems critics of open theism are unwilling to address. As we think carefully about God, how do we come to understand new things about God, things that the original writers may not themselves have recognized?16 Perhaps this is as much a point of division as open theism’s view of exhaustive definite foreknowledge or specific sovereignty.

A crucial example of this issue is the question of what constitutes the ‘biblical’ notion of free will? Critics of open theism argue that open theology gets doctrine wrong because it does not utilize the biblical notion of free will. One criticism points out that in Old Testament law, people were held accountable for things over which they had no control.17 Here we find the open theists again appealing to larger themes. A fundamental assumption of moral responsibility is that ought implies can.18 Even if we can read some biblical passages in such a way that they would conflict with this interpretation, there seems to be a prevalent assumption that “ought does imply can.”19 Furthermore, there does not seem to be specific denial of this injunction. Finally, passages which can be read as denying the injunction can also be interpreted to be consistent with this moral principle.20

So, how can we agree upon an understanding of the biblical notion of free will? One thing we can start with is an agreement that humans are morally responsible for what they do. Those affirming compatibilism and those affirming libertarian free will each assert that a minimal constraint for a meaningful notion of free will is that it is a basis for moral responsibility. This assists us in seeing the two sides of the issue. Open theists want to look for an open-friendly interpretation of those biblical texts that seem to imply that someone could be morally responsible for their actions when they could not have done otherwise. Compatibilists want to convince us that we can understand our conception of moral responsibility apart from the ability to have done otherwise. That is, they need a good reason to reject the moral principle that “ought implies can.”

Of necessity, this requires interpretation. And until interpretations which affirm this principle are conclusively ruled out, the conclusion that open theism uses a non-biblical conception of free will inevitably lacks support.

Open Theism and Christian Doctrine

Other criticisms of open theism attempt to show that it is contrary to accepted Christian doctrine. Many such criticisms seem to presuppose implicitly that we are clear on doctrinal matters. A careful look at Church history makes it obvious that this presupposition is unwarranted.21 A look at the process of elucidating even the most central doctrines of Christian faith shows that it was not exactly an even-handed, loving activity handled by docile, peace-loving monks.22 A broader look at the development of any doctrine cannot fail to show that the interpretation of the Christian faith is far from being a historically closed matter.

The Example of Omniscience

What would an adequate criticism of open theism based on doctrine look like? Far too often, doctrinal criticisms merely assume that the doctrine being offered, say omniscience, is clearly defined and unambiguously necessitated by Christian faith. Few such doctrines exist. One criticism of open theism is that it rejects exhaustive definite foreknowledge (EDF).23 While widespread acceptance of EDF is a relevant criterion, to show EDF is an essential doctrine of Christianity requires that it be both unambiguously accepted and a necessity for an accurate explanation of the Christian faith.24 The doctrinally grounded arguments for example, God would be less than perfect if God lacked EDF, or that God would lack omniscience without EDF make significant assumptions. Notice that the claim without EDF God would lack omniscience—assumes that we have a precise concept of omniscience and that it includes knowledge of the future. Open theists question both of these assumptions. If a critic of open theism can establish that there is some fact, rather than simply a range of possibilities about the future, we might think that an omniscient being would need to know that fact.25 Open theists, because of their commitment to libertarian free will, question whether the future exists in a way that grounds present exhaustive facts about it. If open theists are right, the future lacks sufficient facts for God to have EDF. This is not inconsistent with omniscience.

On the other hand, some open theists have granted that while there are facts about the future, these facts are not knowable by God or by any other being. If this were the case, then it would not be a limit of God’s knowledge for God to fail know what no being could possibly know. Some have criticized this as tampering with the definition of omniscience, but until there is some independent ground for granting one view of the nature of omniscience over another, this hardly seems to be a sustainable criticism. Much already has been said by others about this topic, so I will refer the reader to some other discussions of the matter.26

The Example of God’s Sovereignty

Similar arguments have been presented against the sovereignty of God. As discussed above, many critics of open theism appear to think that there is an unquestionable concept of sovereignty that is universally accepted by Christians, with the exception of open theists. I doubt a careful look at what Christians believe will support this assumption. Even if there were no open theists around today there would not be a universally accepted concept of sovereignty. Some hold that divine sovereignty simply means that nothing happens that is not divinely ordained. This position is divided by others to distinguish those things that God wills from those things that God does not wish to happen but allows in order to bring about what is willed.27 Open theists reject specific divine sovereignty,28 but this is not the same as the rejection of the doctrine of divine sovereignty. According to open theists, God’s exercise of sovereignty is broad. This is based on the open theist belief that broad sovereignty fits better with God’s goal to enter into loving relationship with beings who are able to reciprocate that love. A good deal of both the liturgy and the practice of Christians, especially prayer, shows that specific divine sovereignty is neither unambiguously held nor necessitated by the Christian faith.29

Philosophical justifications of specific divine sovereignty are no better off. For a philosophical argument to work, there would need to be either unquestionable premises to work from, or one would need to show that rejections of specific sovereignty are necessarily self-contradictory. Either of these tasks is notoriously difficult. Even if one or more open theists has a contradictory conception of divine sovereignty, this would not prove that there is not a consistent concept that open theists could embrace.

Tom Flint has offered a different approach to doctrinal disputes. Flint argues that the way to approach these issues is not to try to come up with a cut and dried argument, but instead to look at how various doctrines work together, as a whole.30 Flint makes two important points in his arguments. First, he recognizes that doctrines are supposed to do things. So we might well ask of the open theist’s notion of sovereignty whether it does what we expect and need the doctrine to do. Second, Flint recognizes that doctrines do not operate in a conceptual vacuum. Flint asks us to consider whether a particular doctrine fits well or poorly with other beliefs. Let us consider an application of Flint’s approach to the question of divine providence: I argue that molinism (Flint’s chosen doctrine of divine foreknowledge) does not handle the notion of divine providence as well as open theism does.

Molinism: One Version of Divine Providence

Molinism attempts to show how God can have EDF, and at the same time, humans can have libertarian free will. It does this by attributing middle knowledge to God. Middle knowledge is the knowledge that God has between knowledge of what is necessarily the case, should God choose to create, and the contingent facts that would be true if God creates a particular world. The middle knowledge that God has is comprised of all of the ways things would be in the whole range of possibilities. The main point of interest is subjunctive conditionals concerning what a free creature would do in a particular circumstance: truths of the form, “if Bob were in circumstance C he would freely choose to do action A.” Based on knowledge of what a libertarian free creature would do in every possible circumstance, God chooses to create a particular world which would bring about what God desires.

Several things are relevant to the discussion of divine providence. First, God’s act of providence consists in the choice God makes to create the particular contingent world. Second, if God decides to intervene in creation,31 that intervention is a part of the particular creation that God has brought about. In other words, the action is part of the plan of creation prior to the act of creation. God’s response comes in the form of perfect anticipation of what we will do and say, including what we will request.32 Finally, God does not have control over what subjunctive conditionals will be true. If God did exercise control over such things, then we would not be free.33 Recall that the molinist is attempting to preserve both libertarian free will and exhaustive definite foreknowledge. It is because the truths of the subjunctive conditionals are not up to God, but are up to creatures that the libertarian free will of creatures is maintained. One might summarize this with the following: necessary truths of creation + subjunctive conditionals + divine selection of contingent conditions = human history, past present and future, including the providential acts of God.

The basic notion of providence is that God works to the good of all creation. Providence is a relational concept in that it tells us something about how God relates to us, specifically that God acts for our good and/or our overall long-term wellbeing.34 The molinist construal of providence seems to be offering us the possibility for a meaningful relationship with God. Suppose I had perfect knowledge, including knowledge of the free acts my children would choose in any possible circumstances and complete knowledge of those circumstances. I might well prepare a future that would meet their needs in a way that maximized their well-being. For example, if I knew I were going to die next week and I had such foreknowledge as described, I might make recordings of advice, support, and congratulations. I am sure under the circumstances this would help my children. However, suppose I have the choice between two options: either I could record my congratulations ahead of time for what I know my child will achieve, or I could be there when it happens to congratulate my child in person. I think that were I able to do either, it would be substantially less meaningful to my children if I chose the first option. Recording the congratulatory message would serve the same purpose as my actual interaction. I might initiate the exchange with something like, ‘Congratulations I know you worked hard for this.’ Given my perfect knowledge, I would know what my son or daughter would then say and wait the appropriate time and record the appropriate response. But this seems to me clearly to be a diminished relationship. The molinist is not denying that God seeks to be in a relationship; as a matter of fact, s/he views middle knowledge as a means of affirming divine providential action. My contention is that open theism has the potential for a richer sense of the providential divine-human relationship. So by Flint’s criterion we should prefer the open theist’s doctrine of providence.35

Finally, it might seem at first that the molinist doctrine of providence necessarily implies that God must choose the best of all possible worlds. Flint rejects this idea based on similar arguments, seen in the literature, dealing with the problem of evil; namely that there may be no best possible world, either because there is no upper limit or because there is a tie. Suppose we choose the later possibility.36 Given our understanding of providence for the molinist—as describing the divine choice of creating the world God did create based on the necessary and subjunctive truths—we now appear to be committed to one of two options. On the one hand, God could see that if anything were made better for any creature, in any particular circumstance, then it would result in either overall less well-being for that creature or less overall well-being for other creatures with which God was equally concerned. On the other hand, God chooses not to act as well as God knew was possible providentially. Each of these strains our sense of the doctrine of providence.37

For the open theist, God’s knowledge of the free actions of individual creatures is limited to the probability that the creature would act in a given way in a given situation. This is often expressed thusly: God knows future possibilities as possible. God acts, based on principles that guide the application of divine providential actions as a direct response to personal interaction with creatures. Perhaps it is only a reflection of already deep open theist tendencies in my own thinking, but as I look at the two approaches, the open theist’s view of providence seems to do a much better job of capturing what I think about as divine providence.38

Open Theism and Philosophy

The most significant type of criticism that open theism faces has to do with the assumptions and philosophical framework open theism endorses, some of which is the basis for replies given above. Do we actually have libertarian free will? Is divinity fundamentally concerned with relationship? Is it impossible for an atemporal being to enter into personal relationships with temporal beings? How is time best understood? Of these, I believe the issue surrounding the nature of time, and the implication this has on divine and human nature, is the most significant issue that open theists face.

The Example of Temporality

Some critics of open theism have asserted that we can maintain exhaustive definite foreknowledge and libertarian free will when we realize that God is atemporal. An atemporal God can know

the whole of the human experience without that knowledge determining human choice. This view maintains libertarian free will because it preserves the possibility that at this instant I can choose between real options. If, for example, I choose to continue typing . . . it nonetheless could have been the case that I took a break instead. Because God is outside time, God will always know what, in fact, I choose to do, but God’s knowledge is not the cause of my action.

The difficulty in the atemporalist’s approach is to avoid equivocation on the nature of time in the switch between the human perspective and the divine perspective. From the divine, atemporal perspective, the whole of time can be immediately known. Time itself must have a single nature, even if, when viewed from different perspectives, divine or human, it is seen in different ways. God is omniscient in that God knows all truths that happen at all times. From our perspective time flows or progresses. I can distinguish tomorrow from yesterday. What happened yesterday is something that is complete and I can not now do anything about it. What will happen tomorrow is, at least in some partial sense, yet to come. In so far as I exercise libertarian free will for some future event, I have the power to determine whether that event will or will not occur.39 Hence, divine atemporality avoids theological determinism and preserves libertarian free will.

It is not enough to preserve the epistemic grounds for free will; grounds that make it rational for us to believe that we have free will. For the divine atemporalist position to be worth our consideration, we want it to maintain the metaphysical ground of free will. We want a description of the structural nature of time that allows us the ability to actualize between genuine alternatives. If the divine atemporalist position does not get us this, then it fails in a significant way.40

The Role of Modern Physics

Modern physics appears to support the atemporalist position. Understanding time has been a major issue at least as far back as Einstein’s introduction of special relativity. There are a number of interrelated issues, but one of the fundamental distinctions is between the stasis or block theory and the dynamic theory of time.41 In the block view of time, the whole of time exists. What to us is past exists equally with what to us is present, and likewise the future exists in exactly the same way as what is present.42 Although some have argued that relativity theory does not commit one to a block view of time, the block view is the view most commonly associated with relativity theory.43 If space-time is understood to be a complete whole, and God—the creator of space-time—is not a part of space-time, then God would be outside of that continuum and outside time. God knows what is to me past, what is to me present and what is to me future with equal clarity and as equally real and occurring. How, exactly, God could be outside the continuum and yet have knowledge of it is difficult to work out; however, given that God could know anything of what is internal to space-time, there would seem to be no barrier to God knowing all of it and thus having what appears to me to be exhaustive definite foreknowledge.

If this is the right or only view of time which is compatible with relativity theory, open theism has significant, perhaps even fatal problems.44 Some have argued that it is not the case that the block view is the only view compatible with the best physics we have available to us. I contend that this view may not be as attractive to the open theistic divine atemporalist as it seems at first. The block or stasis view of time may well be incompatible with other things atemporalists want to affirm; in particular it may be incompatible with libertarian free will. If it is not outright incompatible, it presents such a different view of ‘change’ and ‘free will’ that it will be difficult to reconcile what atemporalists think about the temporal structure and its inhabitants.

The purpose of affirming divine atemporality is to provide a basis for avoiding theistic determinism; to avoid a conflict between God knowing what I will do and my having the ability to actualize from a range of genuine options. My free actions frequently involve a change in my state.45 First, I am one way; then, as I exercise my ability to actualize a genuine option, I come to be in a different state. Typically divine atemporalists take a traditional view of change. To understand the problem for the atemporalist we need to look at what block theory says about the nature of change.

Block Theory and the Nature of Change

According to block theory, humans, like every other thing that has any temporal duration, are spread out in time in the same way that spatial objects are spread out in space. I am not merely what is simultaneous with the typing on this keyboard, but rather, I am a four-dimensional whole that is spread out in time. When you and I interact, what you interact with is a temporal slice or part of me, but I am much more than the temporal slice before you. Here it gets a bit tricky for the divine atemporalist position. Just as the past is real and complete, the future slices of me are real and complete. In the traditional sense of ‘change,’ the four dimensional things spread out in space and time do not change. Supporters of block theory are quick to point out that they do not deny change. They want to affirm the obvious, that things undergo change. But they do not affirm the traditional view of change where I (the whole of me) am first one way and then later I am a different way. In fact, they deny that there is a meaningful referent for ‘I’ in such claims. Instead, based on their block view of spacetime, they affirm that the right way to understand change is: a temporal slice of me is one way and a different temporal slice of me is a different way. This is analogous to the way spatially extended objects change from one spatial location to the next. An aircraft carrier is one way at one spatial point and a different way at another spatial point.

I do not find the preceding description a particularly compelling view of change; however, there is no denying that it does account for much of what we want to say about change in a way consistent with the block or stasis view of time.46 However, it does not account for the idea that a single whole complete thing—me—is first one way and then at some later time that same complete whole thing is different. This is simply something that block theorists view as inconsistent with their metaphysical view. It is something that is inconsistent with what they think is the basic structure of the universe, just as the notion that the whole of you is before me when we interact is a mistaken view. We might now wonder what the block view commits us to regarding the nature of free choice. Am I able to do other than what I do? Whatever I will choose to do tomorrow—is it the case I am at that temporal point able to choose something else?

The discussion here is very difficult to track. In one sense, I necessarily occupy the spatial temporal whole that I occupy, and whatever state any temporal slice of me is in is necessary.47 God might well have instantiated a different spatial-temporal block, but it is difficult to see in what sense that block is relevant. More importantly, whatever sense of possibility might apply, I do not have the power to actualize what is ‘possible.’ We might work out the modal truths of a block world in such a way that it is broadly metaphysically possible that I do something other that what I in fact do; however, that sense of ‘ability’ seems to fall well short of what we need for libertarian free will. What we need for libertarian free will are circumstances where I am able to actualize more than one possible future, because the block universe is a physical universe that requires that it be physically possible for me to actualize more than one possibility. However, in the block universe there is only one future.48 This seems to eliminate libertarian free will. God, in creating this particular space time block, creates the whole thing. On the other hand, if we reject the block view of time, it is not clear that there is a future for God to be aware of. Open theists assert that if we do have libertarian free will and there exists no future for God to know, then God cannot know (with certainty) what I will do.

To sum up, the divine atemporalist faces a dilemma: either the future is complete, in which case the resulting view of objects and changes is unlikely to be reconciled with her/his view of freewill; or there is no future and thus there is nothing for God to know. It is not God’s knowledge which is the cause of the determinism that is inconsistent with libertarian freewill; it is the structure of reality put forward that is the problem. Of course, none of this shows that the block view of time is not the correct view of time. My point here is merely that divine atemporality does not, in any obvious way, get us both EDF and libertarian free will.


Open theism is not immune from significant criticism. However, I hope that I have shown how open theists respond to some recent criticisms. Many critics simply miss the mark by making assumptions that open theists will be unwilling to grant. Some assumptions that are common, like the clarity of doctrine or the notion that we can somehow independently determine which biblical passages are the strong and clear ones, open theists are right to reject. Some like the nature of time seem far more tenuous and difficult to justify.49

Is Open Theism Christian Theism?

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Dr. John Sanders


Introduction: Overview of the issues and summary of Open Theism.


Currently, in North American evangelicalism, there is a controversy regarding the nature of God and divine providence. The 1970’s witnessed the beginning of a prolonged reassessment of certain traditional divine attributes by some prominent evangelical philosophers. They reformulated, or even rejected, attributes such as impassibility and timelessness. In the 1980’s Clark Pinnock and a few evangelical theologians began to publicly criticize some of these same attributes of God. Since the publication of The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God in 1994, the debate has increased in intensity. Some defenders of “evangelical orthodoxy” have sought to discredit this position through the use of caustic rhetoric, labeling the view “Socinianism,” making charges of “heresy,” accusations that we are “creating God in the image of man,” and even a crusade in the Southern Baptist Convention and the Baptist General Conference to rewrite the doctrinal statement of the denominations in order to exclude this position. 1 Why this strong reaction? What is so dangerous and threatening about this view of the divine nature? A recent editorial in Christianity Today highlighted this controversy and requested that classical theists and open theists begin a constructive dialogue.

To explore these issues and engage in dialogue I will first summarize the nature of God according to the openness perspective. Following this, the accusations against the view will be examined; particularly the charge that it is not “classical theism.” This will lead to a discussion clarifying the definition of classical theism, distinguishing it from other varieties of theism. It is hoped that this will provide a consistent nomenclature for the discussion surrounding the different versions of theism. Finally, I will conclude with a number of observations regarding the debate, most importantly, that Openness is Christian Theism. Hopefully, this paper will help clarify the terminology and the categories so that this debate can move forward in a constructive way.
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How about Barth and Open Theism?

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Full Question:


Even though I have known of it and even read a couple of articles concerning it, I’m only now being introduced thoroughly to open theism. I have researched process theology quite a bit and found in it much to commend. I always thought many evangelicals, who have a disdain for process, were throwing out the baby with the bath water. A pentecostal minister once told me that a Christian must eat the meat and throw away the bones. I wish evangelicals could learn to do this.

In my opinion, Karl Barth is the most important theologian of this century and deserves a place among the great theologians of the church. (Of course, I know that many evangelicals have a problem with him also.) In the articles on this website, I have seen no mention of Barth unless I am overlooking him. Can he not contribute to this dialogue in some way? There has been some discussion of predestination and election on the website. Couldn’t we incorporate something from Barth’s understanding of election into the open theism debate? There may be some differences of opinion we may find between Barth and open theism, but there seems to be more agreement than disagreement. Care to comment on whether open theists can learn from Barth?

Bruce M.

Reply to Bruce M.:

Boyd’s recent book “Satan and the Problem of Evil” involves a critical approapriation of Barth’s eschatology, which ,of course, is related to his doctrine of election. As for Barth’s place in the history of theology, as far as I know, his dominance as the most influential theologian of the 20th Century is undisputed. Perhaps Evangelicals have been reluctant to acknowledge this, but the scholarly discourse of the last 50 years will bear this out.


Tyler De Armond, Dr. Boyd’s assistant.

How did we come to Open Theism?

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Dear Webmaster,

One phrase commonly commandeered to quiet and put to rest any alternate view is the phrase “the historic Christian faith once delivered to the saints”. The intimation is that one particular interpretive tradition is the only obvious and reliable truth. It’s right up there with “the Bible clearly says”, a phrase touted by every opposing fellowship in town.

Given the broad range of beliefs both historical and contemporary, what is the historical trek, if any, that has produced the openness view, or is it primarily, aside from its places of agreement with classic Arminianism, a brand new interpretive tradition.

Also, in light of the myriad of opposing theological views, how do we as believers find the common ground that would facilitate real and meaningful fellowship?



Reply to Lilly:

The answers will undoubtedly be different for different ones of us. So here goes:

My own trajectory towards open theism started with a childhood in a fundamentalist, dispensationalist, Baptist church. Over time I gradually fought free of the dispensationalism and some of the more negative aspects of fundamentalism, and arrived at what I would term a mainstream orthodox Protestant position. In the process I studied a lot of theology, much of it Reformed, and I developed a strong conviction that theological determinism and absolute predestination are incompatible with the love and justice of God. I became convinced by philosophical argument that comprehensive divine foreknowledge is inconsistent with genuine free will for human beings, and for a while I was attracted to the doctrine of divine timelessness. I came to see, however, that timelessness has serious problems of its own; furthermore, it is of no real help theologically and is also lacking in biblical support. Like many others, I had been conditioned to read Scripture in a way that did not take seriously the kinds of passages that provide support for the open view, and it is only recently that I have begun to realize how much biblical support that view really has.

A bit more on the development of my position will be found in the article on the “Information” page of this web site.

William Hasker

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So how does prevenient grace fit in with Open Theism?

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Full Question:


Is there any room in open theism for the traditional Arminian affirmation of the necessity of prevenient grace?



Reply to Anonymous:


Yes, though I don’t believe there is anything in open theism which logically entails the necessity of prevenient grace, all of us affirm it as necessary due to sin. On the whole, our view tends to line up with Wesley, and the Eastern Orthodox church on this matter.

Dr. John Sanders

What about verbal plenary inspiration? Wouldn’t that thwart man’s free will?

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Full Question:


Dear Sirs:

Just finished Sanders’ “The God Who Risks” and appreciate his relying on Scripture to make his arguments. However, I wonder how God could have ensured that the writers of Scripture wrote exactly what he wanted. Doesn’t open-theism threaten a belief in plenary, verbal inspiration and inerrancy?

Howard Donahoe


Reply to Howard Donahoe:


This is not such a difficult problem. If the writers of Scripture were willing to be led by God (and one would assume that they were), then God could direct their thoughts without violating their wills, since following God’s direction was what they wanted to do.

William Hasker

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