Recently in my 18 year old daughter’s High School Theology class, the teacher asked if anyone believed in Open Theism, a view of God & Time that is foreign to most modern Christians and one her teacher believes is heretical. She meekly raised her hand. After seeing my daughter’s surprising response, The teacher immediately opened the floor for debate on the topic and allowed my daughter to present her argument the next time the class met. This blog is an account of what happened.
My daughter’s belief in Open Theism did not occur in a vacuum, as I had introduced her to the concept. I had originally opposed the viewpoint (through roughly age 48) but over the course of a year I succumbed to what I now believe is the correct interpretation of scripture. What I found is that Open Theism, a belief that that God fully operates in time, is much truer to the plain rendering of scripture. The view is much less prone to philosophical arguments, and unlike the modern view of “God outside of time” not influenced by a pagan philosophical history. On the other hand, I found the defenders of the modern traditional view spent too much time 1) rendering scores of verses throughout the Bible as either allegory, anthropomorphism, or whatever literary device they chose in an attempt to explain why the plain rendering isn’t correct, 2) rely on philosophical arguments that have a history that originates in the halls of Plato, not in the halls of Moses or the prophets.
Into the Tempest
When preparing her strategy, I reminded my daughter to not take my word for it, but be like the Bereans, who Paul called the most noble of all for “searching the scriptures to prove these things are so.” (Acts 17:11). She decided to walk through a selection of verses from Genesis through Revelation, but first begin her line of defense with two facts that are undisputed:
- The Greek pagan philosophers taught that God was outside of time.
- Augustine, a big fan of Plato, introduced “God outside of time” in the 4th century. There is no evidence that any of the rabbis or church fathers ever taught God outside of time prior to this.
She did not get much traction on the first two points, as the teacher said he believed God acts both in and outside of time and that it shouldn’t be part of her argument. But the opposite, God inside of time, certainly is central to Open Theism (as scriptures will prove below)! Her two facts can’t so easily be dismissed because if God is always inside of time, it not only vindicates the Open view but also totally obliterates Calvinism (more on that later). Its also important to know if any doctrine shares common ground with pagan philosophy. Now one could claim Plato, a wicked man who among other evils advocated infanticide, happened to stumble upon a Biblical “truth” that no church elder taught until Plato admirer Augustine came along, but this is unlikely (1 Cor 1:19-20, Col 2:8).
These facts of Platonian influence should at the very least raise some eyebrows, but my daughter felt these had little if any impact. She also felt hamstrung during her intro when told by the teacher, who my daughter noted was very gracious through the entire affair, that Open Theism had been declared heretical. She did not know how to respond to this. I told her afterward that the center verse in the Bible is “Its better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man” (Psalm 118:8). Also, those higher institutions who ardently proclaim the view as heretical are largely Calvinists (as it turns out her teacher also is), since such a view would dramatically refute their beliefs (for more on Calvinism and why plenty of Christians find it heretical and damaging, see my blogs “The Predestined for Hell Myth” and “Mom Distraught Over Predestination”).
The Scriptural Case
My daughter began with Isaiah 46:11, “Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass”, to lay the groundwork for how God works in time. What my daughter explained next is where most Christians pause, and blink, and sometimes go into violent convlusions. 🙂 The theme is this: God knows the future in the sense that He knows what He will bring to pass, but He doesn’t know the future in the sense of a crystal ball, since the future doesn’t exist until it happens. God only deals in reality. God doesn’t know who the tooth fairy is because the tooth fairy isn’t real. God doesn’t know that Jesus hates him because that’s not reality. God likewise doesn’t know the future because it is not real until it happens. But He does know the future in that He knows what He will bring to pass. Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared in 1943 that we would win the war. He did not look into a crystal ball to know this. But he did know it was inevitable. How much more for God, who knows all things knowable, including every thought of every person, to declare the future and “bring it to pass”.
My daughter then presented the following verses, all the while noting that she was just scratching the surface:
Gen 2:19 – Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them.
Gen 22:12 – “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
Num 14:11 – The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them?
Jer 19:5 – They have also built the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or speak, nor did it come into My mind.
Isaiah 5:4 – What more could have been done to My vineyard [Israel] That I have not done in it? Why then, When I expected it to bring forth good grapes, Did it bring forth wild grapes?
Rev 8:1 – When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.
I had cautioned my daughter that the reaction she would get would not be open arms and a sudden rejection of what her classmates and teacher held to for years, and that she should only hope to plants seeds of doubt in their viewpoint on the topic. After all it took me a year to come around.
The students did not know how to deal with her verses so they said that the verses were taken out of context, for which my daughter rightly asked, “then what is the context?” They also referred to several Bible prophesies, such as Peter denying Christ three times. She correctly pointed out that for those verses to be true and to be taken plainly, God is not required to be outside of time. Why would it be so difficult for Jesus, knowing all of Peter’s thoughts and his heart, to know he would deny Christ an innumerable amount of times! Christ picked three as the number he would use to make the rooster crow, he could have picked 10, or 30, or 100! How hard would it be for God to proclaim “wars, and rumors of wars” for the end times? Not only does God have a long track record of dealing with fallen humans as the Bible so clearly portrays, it certainly would not be difficult for God to bring all these things to pass, working in time. Ironically, to claim God must be outside of time would be limiting God’s power, something they claim the Open view does.
I also warned her that the teacher would invoke the phrase anthropomorphism, which indeed he did. But I am not a prophet who saw the future to know this was virtually certain given the teacher is a very intelligent and learned man. The word is defined as “an interpretation of what is not human or personal in terms of human or personal characteristics”. In other words, God is explaining things in human terms. The word is invoked when the plain rendering of scripture is not accepted as true. Its a favorite defense by Calvinists, and some settled view non-Calvinists when challenged with the verses above (and many more like it). Yet God says “All the words of my mouth are with righteousness; Nothing crooked or perverse is in them. They are all plain to him who understands, And right to those who find knowledge (Prov 8:8-9)”. The only reason the plain rendering of the verses above are rejected out of hand is because they contradict God existing “outside of time”, a view that originated in Greek pagan philosophy and was brought into the church by pagan worshiper-turned-Christian Augustine, who openly admitted to merging Greek philosophy with the Bible. He wrote:
We must, nevertheless, insert into our work certain of those opinions which he [Plato] expresses in his writings… To Plato is given the praise of having perfected philosophy. Augustine, City of God, Book VIII, Ch. 4
Let’s not forget that this pagan philosopher that Augustine championed advocated for abortion and suicide. Paul warned of such associations:
Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. The Apostle Paul, Col 2:8
I found a web site that does a great job not only listing open theology verses, but also those verses that are claimed to oppose the viewpoint:
Open Theism Verse Quick Reference
I truly wasn’t sure how my daughter would respond to the almost certain opposition she would get from her classmates and teacher. For her the class’s reaction was worse than she expected, and she was glad and thankful the teacher “had her back”, not scripturally, but in keeping the discussion civil. He thought her question “Is there time in heaven” was a good one, even though she never got to reveal the punch line verse to show there is (Rev 8:1).
I marveled when my daughter said she was even more convinced of the Open view now than before she did the debate. My daughter is not a rebellious person and does not like conflict, especially with her friends and classmates, so I feared she might cave toward the popular viewpoint. But she became even more steadfast that she was on the right path. The reasons she gave began with how the students never took the time to explain how her verses were out of context. She knew it was because they could not. She also realized they did not seem to be listening to her explanation of how the Open view can accommodate their prophetic verses without compromising the plain words. In other words, she has a lot of verses they simply could not explain, way too many in her mind to just ignore, and they did not seem to grasp her reasoning of how she could easily accommodate their verses without sacrificing plain words at the alter of context, allegory, or anthropomorphism. The teacher even suggested she was a Molinist, which somewhat ironically is true of her mom and my dear wife, but certainly not my daughter.
In the end, my daughter was heartened when I reminded her of the center verse of the Bible:
It is better to trust in the Lord
Than to put confidence in man. (Psalm 118:8)
This is not to say that her classmates and teacher don’t also hold to this verse and the overall truth and literacy of the Bible. Its a good, Biblically-based school. My daughter understands this isn’t a topic of salvation, not even close, but it is an important topic! For if God does indeed operate inside of time, it uproots and demolishes a pagan influence in the church that has led to the tragic and destructive doctrine of Calvinism. As noted open theist Pastor Bob Enyart quipped: