An Interesting Problem with Open Theism: Is Our Faith in God Well-Placed?
One of the main proponents of Open Theism is John Sanders who wrote the book, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence. In this book Sanders points out that his main worry, in his theological endeavor, is to preserve the relationship of true love between God and his creatures. The Open Theist view depends upon placing God within time, and claiming that God actually interacts with man exactly as the Bible portrays his interactions. This means that God does not truly know the future, aside from certain events that He pre-ordained. He is, in fact, just as surprised as we are by each and every event of our lives.
Interestingly enough the proponents of Open Theism insist on a literal hermeneutic which interprets all descriptions of God, in the Bible, as literal descriptions of God. Therefore, when God, in the garden, called out to Adam and Eve, asking for their whereabouts, God really had no idea where they were. Proponents of this view claim that it is not only faithful to the Bible, but that it is also practical for pastoral counseling. There are a number of problems with this view, which I outlined in a previous blog post. These problems include the validity of their hermeneutical method, and the limitations that they place on God.
In addressing the relation between faith and reason I recently discovered, what appears to be, another problem with Open Theism. As I have noted in previous blogs faith is voluntary consent to a truth claim made by a recognized authority (faith is a passive action made by an individual, so when I say that the truth claim is made by a recognized authority, I mean a person or group that is recognized, by the individual, as an authority or authorities). Faith, as voluntary consent to the truth of an affirmation, can be placed in anybody who is recognized by person X as an authority (regardless of whether or not they are authorities. For example, quite frequently children put faith in the claims of their friends who have no idea what they are talking about.)
When I place my faith in someone, that is, when I voluntarily give my consent to a truth claim, it is faith only when I have no knowledge of the truth of the claim. For example, I have never been to Australia; however, I have a friend who lives there. I have also seen geography books, atlases, maps and movies that claim that Australia exists. Now, until I experience through sense perception the existence of Australia (I go there or fly over it, or drive by in a boat, etc.) I have no knowledge of the existence of Australia. I only believe that it exists based upon the authority and trustworthiness of others. You could bring me all kinds of evidence (bumper stickers, license plates, pictures, videos, etc.) but it is still only faith until I experience it. Faith based on evidence is faith that is based upon evidence that the authority that I am believing is worthy of my belief, the authority can give me all kinds of tangible proofs, but until I see it, I still only believe. So, the point is, faith based on evidence is always just that, voluntary consent to the truth of an affirmation, based upon the trustworthiness of the authority.
There is a sense in which faith is blind. That is, it does not see the truth of the affirmation believed. However, it is not blind in the sense that it believes in spite of the evidence. Going back to my Australia example, we might say that the Christian who believes that the Bible is true and that Jesus is God is like me when it comes to Australia. My friend comes back and shows me a bunch of bumper stickers, a license plate, pictures and a couple videos. Then another friend who denies outright the existence of Australia comes along, and, seeing the evidence that my Australian buddy has shown me, says, "well, you probably had the bumper stickers and license plate made in the US, maybe at Disney Land. The pictures look like they were taken in Nevada, and maybe California. That video of the beach definitely was taken in Myrtle Beach, SC." Doubt can be cast upon the evidence, or the evidence could be reinterpreted in a different way, but it is still faith based upon evidence that has been offered by a credible authority.
When it comes to human authorities, there is a well-known philosophical fallacy that says, rightly so, that an appeal to authority is the worst possible argument. Why is this so? Human authorities are notoriously fallible. As confident as they might be, as much as they might know, there is always a chance that they might be wrong. Furthermore, human authorities consistently contradict each other. The fallibility of human authorities is due to the limitations of human nature. We are limited physically and temporally (one place at a time, we can’t know the future, and we only have a short period of time in which to live and learn), as well as intellectually (There is only so much that we can know, and much of what we think we know can be doubted. We can learn from others, but, as most scholars would admit, there’s not enough time to learn all they want to learn.). In spite of the limitations intrinsic to human nature we still place our faith in those men and women whom we consider to be worthy of our trust. We know we may be deceived or let down, by even the most trustworthy people, yet we place our faith in them anyways.
When it comes to the Bible, we are presented with some very important claims and promises. “…that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life…Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” We also note the promise in Romans 10, “because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’” Our salvation is based upon the faith that we put in God that when he says that we simply need to believe that Jesus is God, and confess that God raised Jesus from the dead, in order to be saved it is true and that by doing so we will indeed be saved.
We are coming, now, to the point of this critique. We are saved by faith, faith placed in the claims made by an authority – God. As we noted above when we place our faith in a fallible authority, such as a human, there is always a chance that we are being deceived or that we will be let down. The God of Open Theism is not omniscient, nor all powerful. The God of Open Theism is something like an eternal human. If God is not omniscient, if God could lie, or be deceived, then my faith is not necessarily well placed. That is, God is not more trustworthy than any other human authority. Is my salvation based upon the word of a fallible, eternal being? For the Open Theist, God doesn’t know the future any more than I do, if this is the case, then I have no reason to believe him, anymore than any other authority, when he makes a promise about the future. To claim the contrary seems to be somewhat gratuitous, and a case of special pleading. There does not seem to be any basis for thinking that God is more trustworthy than any other human authority. (The attempt to base the claim that God IS more trustworthy than any other human authority upon the Bible, God’s word, appears to be circular reasoning. 1. The Bible is the word of God. 2. The Bible says X about God. 3. Therefore God is X.) It would appear, therefore, that we have no reason to trust Gods words (the God of Open Theism) any more than the words of an intelligent and virtuous human being.
We seem, if we wish to embrace Theism, to be left with a difficult choice, either we accept that God is as described by the Open Theists, and our salvation is no more certain that the politicians promise to lower taxes, or we reject the God of the Open Theists for the God of Classical Theism. The God of classical theism is worthy of trust because He is pure act, truth, beauty, the good, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, eternal, infinite and sovereign over all creation. If such a God exists (see some blogs that I wrote demonstrating that God exists), then we know that our faith is well-placed, and our salvation secure.
John Sanders, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007).
John Sanders, “Divine Suffering in an Openness of God Perspective”, in The Sovereignty of God Debate, ed. by D. Stephen Long and George Kalantzis (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2009), 112.
Sanders, The God Who Risks, 224.
Gregory A. Boyd, God of the Possible (2000; repr., Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2008), 153-156. Cf. Gregory A. Boyd, “The Open-Theism View”, in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, ed. by James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 27.
I don’t want to create a false dilemma here. It does seem that if we begin removing the attributes of the God of classical Christian Theism, then we are, sooner or later, pushed into the God of Open Theism.