or, ARE ARMINIANS CHRISTIANS?
By Louis F. DeBoer
What separates Calvinists from Arminians? It is an issue of “free will.” Ultimately, it is an issue of whose will is crucial in our salvation. Calvinists say it is the will of God. Arminians say that it is the will of man. Calvinists say that man has no “free will” to will any spiritual good and cannot of his own volition choose to turn from his sin and seek God. Arminians say that man has such power of volition and that man’s will is determinative in the issue of his salvation.
Calvinists say that “Salvation is of the Lord.” They say that the work of salvation is monergistic, that it is all the work of God, who “worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13) Arminians believe that it is synergistic, that it is a cooperative effort between God and man. Since man’s contribution is essential, and since God in many cases does the same thing for everyone, both the elect and the reprobate, the determining factor in man’s salvation is man’s contribution. And what is man’s contribution? It is to choose to believe the gospel, to choose to believe on Christ. Logically, this becomes a form of salvation by works. Neonomians, such as Richard Baxter, openly professed this, stating that we are saved by the work of believing on Christ. Calvinists counter that the very faith, whereby we are justified in the sight of God, is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8), who works faith in us by his Holy Spirit.
Where are we headed with all this, as this is not intended to be an article on the Arminian-Calvinist controversy? The above is merely introduction to the real issue before us. What we are seeking to determine is the issue of are Arminians Christians, and how this relates to the theology of Open Theism? If Arminians really believe in salvation by works then we can argue that it is indeed another gospel and that that Arminians are not Christians. If Arminians really believe that they have saved themselves by their own actions, by an act of their own wills, then indeed they have another gospel, and again the issue can legitimately be raised, are Arminians Christians? What is the answer to all this? Well, historically, Calvinists have not taken the position that Arminians are not Christians. Why is this? It is because they have noted that most Arminians are inconsistent in their beliefs. To say the least their heads and their hearts are not in agreement. If one really believes that one has saved oneself by one’s own actions, if one really believes that they are saved and their neighbor lost because they were a better or wiser person who made better decisions, then as Paul says, “he hath whereof to glory.” In other words they have a basis for self-righteousness. The self-righteous Pharisee prayed, “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. An real Arminian could logically pray, “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, who have rejected your gospel and refused to believe on your Son, Jesus Christ. I have believed and I have accepted your offer of salvation, and accepted your Son as my Savior and Lord.” Now I have known many Arminians, but I have never one that would pray in this manner. Most would be shocked at such sentiments. It is because of this happy inconsistency that Calvinists have accepted Arminians as fellow Christians. However, it is important to note that Calvinists have frequently taught that consistent Arminians are not Christians. Consistent Arminianism is another gospel.
In recent years we have noticed a particular virulent and extreme form of consistent Arminianism. It is known as Open Theism. To begin to understand this heresy, we first need to discus what the Bible teaches about man, free will, and the will of God. Does man have free will? The historic answer of Calvinists is that man had free will. Adam had free will in the garden, and he freely chose to sin. However, since that time, since man’s fall into sin, man’s will is no longer free in the same sense. The following Scriptures set forth the point that man no longer has free will in the sense that Adam and Eve did.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9) Man’s heart is not morally neutral and able to objectively make the best choices. According to Jeremiah it is radically inclined towards evil.
Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. (John 8:34) Jesus does not say that we are free and morally capable of a full range of choices. Rather, he says that as sinners we are enslaved to sin and cannot stop our patterns of sinful behavior. This is certainly the testimony of any human being who has ever been entrapped in some debilitating vice. The word for servant in this passage is doulos, the Greek word for slave. We are enslaved to sin and cannot stop sinning. We are not free, and have no ability to will to stop sinning.
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins. (Ephesians 2:1) Paul says that before our conversion to Christianity, we were spiritually dead and had no spiritual life in us. Spiritually dead people cannot respond to God’s word and walk in his truth. They are not capable of worshipping and serving God as they ought. They are incapable of either willing that or performing that.
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Corinthians 2:14 Paul says that unconverted men cannot receive the truths of God. They certainly cannot understand them much less will to walk in them and conform to them.
Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. John 8:44 We act according to our nature. If we are of this world we will act according to the values of this world. If we are of the devil it will reflect in our moral choices.
Such texts could be multiplied, but these should be sufficient. Does man therefore not have free will? Well, certainly not in the sense that we have been discussing. Martin Luther’s great book, The Bondage of the Will, written in his dispute with the Roman Catholic humanist, Erasmus, clearly taught that. Nonetheless, there is a sense in which we acknowledge that man has free will. Man’s will is free in that it is not coerced. Man freely makes his moral choices without external constraints compelling him. Even such external restraints as police power, or the barrel of a gun, can only make a person hesitate to carryout the choices of the will, but they cannot stop the will, the desire, to commit the forbidden acts. In short, man makes his moral choices according to his nature, and as a sinner his choices inevitably are sinful choices. They are free choices because they are not imposed on him by external coercion. They are not free in that he cannot help making them, rather than more righteous alternatives. Only divine intervention by the Holy Spirit can break this pattern, not by coercing our wills, but by changing our nature that we delight to will the things of God. As Christ told Nicodemus, “Ye must be born again.”
This then brings us back to the issue of whose will is determinative in our salvation? Is it our wills or God’s? Is salvation monergistic or is it synergistic? Well, logically, we already have our answer. Unregenerate man cannot will to do any spiritual good. Man cannot will to believe the gospel and follow Jesus Christ. Man can only will to continue his pattern of sin and rebellion against God. Man needs to be born again and he cannot will himself a new heart. He cannot by an act of his own volition change his sinful nature and cause himself to be born again. As Scripture states it, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.” (Jeremiah 13:23) We have no more power over our spiritual birth than we did over our physical conception and birth. Salvation truly is of the Lord. And Scripture continues to testify to that. As John states it…
He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:11-13)
John is explicitly stating that unregenerate men do not receive Christ and that those who received him and became sons of God did so because they were born again. And how were they born again? Not by the will of the flesh, their own sinful natures, and not by the will of men, but by the will of God. John continues to assert this truth…
No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:44)
Again John is stating that we have no power to come to God on our own. God must will to save us and take the initiative and draw us to himself by his Spirit. Paul teaches the same truth saying…
For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy. Romans 9:15-16
Paul states that God’s mercy is sovereign. God decides to whom he extends mercy, and that this is not according to man’s will, or man’s efforts, but according to the will of God.
Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will. (Ephesians 1:5)
Paul continues to state that our salvation is based upon the will of God, rather than our own. Again, such texts could be multiplied, but the point is clear that according to the Scripture it is God’s will and not man’s that is determinative in the issue of our salvation. Salvation truly is of the Lord. Let us give him all the glory.
Now, as we have noted most Arminians are Christians. In their hearts they really believe the Biblical way of salvation. They believe that God truly saved them. They believe that salvation really is of the Lord. They give God all the glory for their salvation. They believe in the absolute necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit in converting men to faith in Jesus Christ. They believe these things because of the testimony of the Spirit and the word in their hearts although it is not always completely and logically consistent with their Arminian theology. However, there are a class of Arminians who are radically different. They have rigorously pushed their Arminian theology to its logical conclusions. And that brings us to Open Theism.
What is Open Theism? It is a rigorous and compellingly logical Arminianism. Open Theism is the theology of those who have taken the concept of free will to what they consider its logical conclusions. First of all, they have a libertarian concept of free will. That is they believe that man is capable of willing any of the full range of moral choices before him. They admit that man is influenced by his sinful nature, but not sufficiently to corrupt the workings of his will that it does not have full liberty. There is no slavery to sin in their view. We have already dealt with the Scriptural response to that error. Additionally, they do not believe that God can control the wills of men in any meaningful way. That also is unscriptural, as the following Scriptures attest…
The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will. Proverbs 21:1
But Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him: for the LORD thy God hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate, that he might deliver him into thy hand, as appeareth this day. And the LORD said unto me, Behold, I have begun to give Sihon and his land before thee: begin to possess, that thou mayest inherit his land. Deuteronomy 2:30-31
Joshua made war a long time with all those kings. There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hivites the inhabitants of Gibeon: all other they took in battle. For it was of the LORD to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that he might destroy them utterly, and that they might have no favour, but that he might destroy them, as the LORD commanded Moses. Joshua 11:18-20
For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Romans 9:17-18
We do not know how the Lord works his will, even with the wills of sinful men, but we do know that Scripture clearly teaches that the wills of men are no impediment to the Lord working his will in human history. We do know that men’s wills remain free, in that they are uncoerced. Sihon and Pharaoh made their choices freely. They were not puppets. They were not coerced by God into sinning. Yet God was able to control the situation so that these proud and arrogant monarchs, just when they thought they were defying God and could destroy his people, were actually fulfilling the will of God. The point is that God is not helpless in human history. He is not an impotent bystander. He is not hostage to the decisions of men’s free wills. As even that great pagan monarch Nebuchadnezzar stated it after he too learned his lesson, “…and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? Daniel 4:34-35 The God who humbled Nebuchadnezzar, and brought this acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty from his lips, is not a God whose will can be frustrated by even the greatest of kings. It is he who rules, even in the affairs of men. “Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.”
At this point is probably helpful to mention that we need to define what we mean by the “will of God” as used in this essay. There are two separate aspects to any discussion of the “will of God.” In theology the term “the will of God” is used in two separate senses. The first sense is what we call the revealed will or the preceptive will. This refers to God’s moral law. It is God’s revealed will, his perceptive will, that we worship him as the only true God, that we worship him according to his precepts, that we keep his day holy, and that we refrain from murder, adultery, theft, false witness, etc. When we sin we transgress the preceptive will of God. The other sense in which the term “the will of God” is used is to refer to what we call the secret will of God. The secret will of God is his eternal decrees concerning his creation that were foreordained before the foundation of the world. As James puts it, “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” (Acts 15:18) Everything that comes to pass, the creation, life, and death of every creature, are all part of God’s eternal decrees, of what he has predestined to come to pass in this world. The revealed will is known through both conscience and Scripture and therefore it is termed the revealed will. The eternal counsel of God concerning every detail of his creation is not known, hence it is termed his secret will. Moses refers to this when he writes, “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29) It is critically important to keep these distinctions in mind in any discussion with respect to the will of God.
A brief example may be in order. Christ is spoken of in Scripture as the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,” because his death was foreordained before time began. Christ’s sacrificial death for his people was part of God’s eternal decrees, part of his secret will. However, it is God’s revealed will that we love, honor, and obey his Son. When Judas betrayed Christ, and when Pilate sentenced him to death, they were fulfilling the secret will of God. At the same time they were transgressing the revealed will of God. Are Judas and Plate to be commended for bringing to pass the secret will of God? Are they to be praised for their part in God’s great plan of salvation? Of course not! It is not for nothing that Christ called Judas the “son of perdition.” Our duty is to keep the revealed will of God. We will be judged by how we have kept the revealed will of God. We have to leave the secret will up to God. He will perform all his pleasure and bring to fruition all his purposes. The very hairs of our head are all numbered. We are totally in his hands. That is our comfort. Let us rejoice in that.
As an aside we should note that this distinction in the will of God is also a crucial issue in the Calvinist-Arminian debate. It is God’s preceptive will that all men should repent, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and be saved. It is God’s secret will that only the elect be saved. This is obvious and should be beyond debate, unless one is a universalist, for it is clear, from both Scripture and history, that not all men are saved and that multitudes are on the road to perdition or have already gone to a Christless eternity. Yet Arminians will argue from texts referring to the preceptive will of God that it is God’s secret will to redeem all men and that this purpose of God is constantly being frustrated by man’s free will. In this view God is impotent to save anyone. He has done all he can do. He has offered up his Son to make men savable, to provide a potential salvation for all men, and is now awaiting to see the results of his attempt to redeem humanity from its sins. Logically speaking, the Arminian God cannot really save anyone; he can only make men’s salvation possible. Fortunately, most Arminians do not express such sentiments. They are far too Biblical to press their theology to its logical conclusions.
Now how does all this relate to the issue before us? Well let us take the issue of whether men can by the exercise of their free will frustrate the will of God. The answer depends on which sense we are using the term “the will of God.” Both Calvinists, Arminians, and Open Theists would agree that men can and do, with depressing frequency, successfully overrule the revealed will of God in their moral choices. We sin daily, and every sin is violation of the revealed will of God. The real issue before us is can men frustrate the secret will of God. That is the issue at stake between Calvinists and Arminians. That is a major issue when confronting the proponents of Open Theism. And it is in that sense, as referring to the secret will of God, that the term the will for God is used in this discussion.
Now Open Theism, like classical Arminianism, denies any effective limit to the freedom of men’s wills, and denies that God can work his eternal will and pleasure in spite of men’s wills, but it goes even further. It denies that God can know the future. Open Theists reason as follows. If God knows the future, then the future has been determined. If the future has been determined then man’s will is not really free because his future choices have already been decided. Therefore, since man’s will is absolutely free, and since that precludes present determination of future events, therefore God cannot know the future. They acknowledge that God is omniscient, but postulate that the future is unknowable, since the free choices upon which it is contingent have not as yet been made. Therefore, since God’s omniscience only covers what is knowable, in spite of his omniscience, God does not know the future.
Now, it is only fair to state that Open Theists are not uniform in their beliefs. Some believe that the future is knowable, but that God has chosen not to know some future events to leave full scope for the play of men’s free will. They postulate that God can lay aside his attribute of omniscience and selectively decide not to exercise it. This, however, creates even more problems. They now have a God who can change, and who can change his attributes at will. Can God now change other attributes, such as his faithfulness, his omnipotence, his holiness? Can God now change his word, his promises, his covenants? This is a quagmire that effectively destroys theology and would make us all agnostics. God would be unknowable. His word and promises would become unreliable. This precipitates a theological disaster of unimaginable proportions. Secondly, it is a logical fallacy that God could selectively set aside his omniscience. God would have to know what future events to selectively restrict from his knowledge. Therefore, to eliminate them from his omniscience he would first have to know them, and then will to forget them. This is a logical absurdity. The testimony of both Scripture and logic are relentlessly arrayed against such errors.
Let us examine the claims of the first class of Open Theists who declare that the future is unknowable. We readily admit that for us the future is entirely unknowable. We may think we know what will happen by experience and by our knowledge of what specific people always do in certain circumstances, but we really do not know. We can be surprised. The question is does God know with absolute certainty what will happen in the future? The question becomes is God ever surprised? What saith the Scriptures on this issue?
One hardly knows where to begin here. The Scriptures have an exhaustive supply of prophetic material that demonstrate God’s intimate knowledge of the future. Volumes could be written on this subject, so much so that it is almost inconceivable that anyone would even attempt to deny God’s exhaustive and comprehensive knowledge of future events. We will simply give a few examples, concentrating on future events that definitely involve actions subject to the “free will” of man.
“They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.” Psalm 22:18
“And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots.” Matthew 27:35
These passages show the knowledge of God concerning how the soldiers who crucified Christ would dispose of his garments centuries before they worked it out at the foot of the cross.
“Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.” Psalm 41:9
“I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me.” John 13:18
“Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus.” Acts 1:16
In these passages Judas’ decision to betray Christ, with a reference to the Last Supper from which Judas left to carry out his treason, is clearly set forth centuries before it occurred and the fulfillment in time is recorded by the inspired writers.
Secondly, we can note a few Scriptures that not only demonstrate God’s knowledge of the future, involve the choices of men’s “free wills,” but also demonstrate God’s control over the future.
“And the LORD said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.” Exodus 4:21
In this passage the Lord reveals his knowledge of the future actions of Pharaoh and attributes Pharaoh’s response to his own actions. God is both knows the future moral choices of men and has all such events under his control.
“The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. This is the LORD’S doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.” Psalm 118:22-23
In this passage the Scriptures both set forth a prophecy that the Lord Jesus Christ would be rejected by the leaders of the Jewish nation, and that this rejection and Christ’s ultimate exaltation was the Lord’s doing. A clearer text to testify to both God’s foreknowledge of future events and his control over those events could not be found. Additionally, we have a parallel passage that states…
“Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed” Psalm 2:1-2
“Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.” Acts 4:25-28
In this passage again the Lord, through his prophetic word, demonstrates his complete knowledge of future events, including the choices and actions of Herod, Pilate, and the rulers of the Jews, and declares that it was all according to his determinate counsel, in other words according to his predestined purposes, his secret will. God knows all things and he is in control of all things and he uses that control to bring to pass his secret will, his eternal decrees from before the foundation of the world. That is the uniform testimony of Scripture. I have chosen to concentrate the examples on the events of the death of Christ, but the Scriptures contain a multitude of fulfilled prophecies covering many different events and many different personalities. God’s knowledge and his control of future events are respectively comprehensive and absolute. We can now answer the question we proposed earlier; God knows the future and he is never surprised.
Nonetheless, Open Theists beg to differ. They propose that God does not know the future and that therefore he is at times surprised, that he makes mistakes, that he repents of his mistakes, that he learns from his experiences, that he changes his mind as unexpected events occur, and that he tests men to see what they will do. They quote specific Scriptures in an attempt to establish these views as being Biblical. They believe that there is a Biblical case for their revisionist views of God.
How are we to answer them when they argue from the Scriptures for beliefs that seem so patently unscriptural? Is there really a Biblical case for Open Theism? Do the verses they quote really teach what is claimed? Does the church’s historic doctrine need to be revised to accommodate the testimony of such texts? Is the orthodox view of God defective? Open Theists think so. We think not. There are two ways to deal with the arguments of Open Theists. One is that the Scriptures often employ the language of appearance. For instance the Scriptures speak of the sun rising and the sun going down. This is the language of appearance. We all know that what is actually happening is that the earth is rotating on its axis and the sun is coming into and going out of view. When the Bible says that the sun stood still the ancient Hebrews could understand exactly what was happening on the long day of Joshua. If the Scriptures had stated that the earth stopped rotating on its axis they might have been a little mystified. The Bible is not written as a geography textbook with astronomically correct statements about what the sun is doing, rather it simply uses the language of appearance. When the Bible speaks to scientific issues it is of course infallible, but when it is not speaking to such issues it uses the common expressions of the language of the people to whom it is addressed. Now applying this principle to the doctrine of God, to theology proper, we see a similar pattern. We know from Scripture that God is an eternal, omnipresent spirit. As the Confession of Faith states it, “There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions” (WCOF, Chapter II, Section 1). Yet the Scriptures constantly use language with respect to God that we as human beings can relate to. Scripture speaks of the tables of stone containing the Decalogue being written by the very finger of God. Scripture relates how the Lord delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt with an outstretched arm. The Bible speaks of the eyes and of the ears of the Lord, and refers to the breath of his mouth and the shadow of his wings. How are we to understand such language attributed to a God who is a pure spirit? We call this anthropomorphic language. God relates to us in his word in a manner that we can readily understand. He relates to us in a way that human beings would find natural. We do not know how God formed the words on the tablets of stone, but God spares us a scientific explanation, if there even is one for such a miraculous occurrence, and simply states that they were written by the finger of God. Now this anthropomorphic language is not restricted to God’s physical attributes. It is also used with respect to God’s metaphysical attributes. For example the Bible says, “And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made” (Genesis 2:2). Now if we were foolish enough to take this kind of language literally we might come to the ridiculous conclusion that the almighty, omnipotent God was mentally tired, and being exhausted from six days of creative activity needed to rest, when all the text is saying is that God ceased laboring, having completed the work of creation. Now it is the misunderstanding of such texts that supply Open Theists with what they allege are Biblical arguments for their position. Let’s examine a few of these texts…
“And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” Genesis 6:6
How are we to take this statement? Does this text really establish what the Open Theists derive from it, that God has miscalculated, that unforeseen events have overtaken him, that the free will choices of men have thwarted his purposes, that his plans have gone awry, that he has to regroup and go to plan B. And what of other Scriptures that state the contrary view such as, “And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent” (1 Samuel 15:29). When the Scriptures make two apparently contradictory statements it is frequently helpful to see if a key word in both texts is being used in a different sense. Words can and do have multiple meanings. Now, one thing is certain, that whatever is meant in the first verse, the second verse clearly states that God does not repent in the same sense that men do. The first verse is using anthropomorphic language to describe God’s reaction to the wickedness of men before the flood. Repentance has to do with change, and what the verse seems to be saying is that God’s formal judicial attitude towards his sinful creation is now changing. From being patient and longsuffering with the wickedness of man God is now proceeding to the unleash his judgment, particularly the judgment of the great flood that would sweep all mankind away except for Noah and his family. The conjectures of the Open Theists are inconsistent with the rest of Scripture and are unwarranted by the text. Scripture must be interpreted by Scripture.
“And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.” Genesis 9:16
“And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities in the which Lot dwelt.” Genesis 19:29
“And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob”. Exodus 2:24
Open Theists would conclude from these verses that God forgets. That his knowledge of human affairs is not always complete. Again, this is anthropomorphic language, as God accommodates his communication to us to our way of understanding. When God remembers it is not a confession that he is recalling to his consciousness something that he had forgotten. Rather it is a statement that things that had been, according to his holy purposes and eternal decrees, in abeyance for a season are now ready to be acted on. In these verses God is saying that the time has come to remember, that is to act on and fulfill Abraham’s petitions with respect to his nephew Lot, and to remember, that is to begin to fulfill the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant with respect to the children of Israel in Egypt. To postulate that God had ever forgotten these and suddenly he is playing catch up as events are beginning to transpire that are contrary to his promises and covenants is totally absurd. The Open Theists have a different god than the God of the Bible. Of our God the Scriptures say…
“(For the LORD thy God is a merciful God;) he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them.” Deuteronomy 4:31
“Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.” Isaiah 49:15
There are Scriptures that do speak of God forgetting his people. Take for example, “Therefore, behold, I, even I, will utterly forget you, and I will forsake you, and the city that I gave you and your fathers, and cast you out of my presence: And I will bring an everlasting reproach upon you, and a perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten. (Jeremiah 23:39-40). However, even here it does not mean forget in the sense of losing conscious awareness of something. Rather it means a rejection and a casting off. It is apparent from God’s subsequent treatment of and judgments on those that he has “forgotten” that they are very much on his mind.
“And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.” Genesis 11:5
“I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know.” Genesis 18:21
Again, verses such as the above provide grist for the mill of Open Theists. They argue from such texts that God does not have comprehensive foreknowledge of the future. They can claim that God does not know what the future free will choices of men will be. And that therefore God has to go down, so to speak, and see what men are up to. He has to monitor the situation and see what kind of choices men are making and what they are deciding to do. What is apparent in these texts is that this coming down is not an inquiry after knowledge as much as it is a coming of the Lord in judgment. Both the society of the Tower of Babel and of the cities of the plain were subjected to visitations of divine judgment. In the case of Sodom and Gomorrah we are told in Genesis 18:17 that God had already decided to judge these cities demonstrating that God is not proceeding here on the basis of a lack of knowledge. What is happening here is that God is determining to apprise Abraham of the fact that that he is about to destroy Sodom, the city where his nephew Lot is located. In verse 21 he is communicating his intention to Abraham. He is stating to Abraham that he is going down to Sodom in judgment and will judge the city according to its wickedness. It is Christ who will be appointed by the Father at the end of the age to exercise all judgment over men, and here a pre-incarnate Christ, is telling Abraham that he is going down to Sodom as a Judge to formally arraign it and judge it for its sins. Christ, acting in the capacity of a Judge, formally inquiring into the sins of Sodom and pronouncing sentence upon them is no basis on which to deny the omniscience of God.
“And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. Genesis 22:12
Open Theists argue from this text that God does not know what men will do, that he is unaware of the outcome of the future free will acts of men. They postulate that God did not know what Abraham would do when he was commanded to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. However, in another verse, previous to the above events, God says he knows exactly what Abraham will do, saying, “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD.” (Genesis 18:19) God arranged a severe test of Abraham’s faith. God arranged this in a marvelous way that made Isaac a type of Christ, and Paul refers to this in Hebrews. God knew exactly what Abraham would do and as Paul stated elsewhere, all this was written for our example. God worked this all out to foreshadow the coming death and resurrection of Christ and to set forth the principle of a substitutionary atonement. The outcome of this great event, typifying the gospel, was never in doubt for a moment. The language of Genesis 22:12 is simply an anthropomorphism. It is simply the Lord accommodating himself to a human mode of speaking.
It is interesting that a number of these alleged proof texts of Open Theists deal with pre-incarnate theophanies of Jesus Christ. And that brings us to the issue of the omniscience of Jesus Christ. Was Jesus Christ omniscient? The answer is not a simple one. It could be yes or no. It all depends on how we are viewing Christ at the moment. As the eternal Son of God, as the second person of the Trinity Jesus Christ has all the attributes of deity including omniscience. In that sense Christ is absolutely omniscient, knowing all things, both past present, and future, concerning any and all creatures. On the other hand, as the son of Mary, his human nature has all the limitations of that nature. As regards Christ’s human nature it is not omniscient. Hence Christ himself can say, “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only,” indicating that even the human nature of Christ did not know the timing of the great day of the Lord at the end of the age. All this simply accentuates how problematic it is to use the above texts the way they are by the proponents of Open Theism, in an attempt to deny the omniscience of God.
The cardinal principle of sound hermeneutics, the doctrine of how to interpret Scripture, is that Scripture must interpret Scripture. That is, difficult or disputed texts are not to be interpreted in a vacuum resulting in grotesque doctrines as Peter warned when he stated of Paul’s writings, “…in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16). Rather they are to be interpreted in the light of the rest of Scripture so that any resultant doctrinal conclusions from the difficult texts will not be at variance with clearly established Biblical doctrines. Scripture can not be interpreted in a way that it begins to contradict itself. God is not the author of confusion. Now this is a principle that the Open Theists grossly violate. By interpreting these texts their way, in isolation from the rest of Scripture, they create a caricature of God that is radically different from the traditional view of God. Let us briefly review just a few texts that set forth the incredible omniscience of God with respect to every detail of his creation.
…for the LORD searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts. 1 Chronicles 28:9
Note the repetition of the word all, denoting no limit whatsoever to God’s omniscient knowledge of his creatures.
But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. Job 23:10
Job confesses that the Lord knows what he will do, as he is tried and tested, before he even does it.
Dost thou know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of him which is perfect in knowledge? Job 37:16
Scripture testifies that God’s knowledge is perfect. Open Theists state that it is imperfect, and incomplete and that based on his imperfect knowledge God guesses, makes mistakes, and miscalculates what men will do.
I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee. Job 42:2
Again the Scripture testifies to the comprehensive nature of God’s knowledge that no thought of man can be hidden from the Lord.
Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it. Psalm 139:2-6
Here the Psalmist marvels at the greatness of God and is overwhelmed by the total omniscience of God. No Open Theist could conceivably express such praise of God as David does here.
Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure. Isaiah 46:10
Here God declares not only his knowledge of things yet to take place, but announces his total control over future events, stating that they will work out according to his counsel and his pleasure. Such sentiments so clearly and forcefully expressed by God himself sound the death knell on the heresies of the Open Theists.
O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! Romans 11:33
Paul states that that the depth of the wisdom and knowledge of God are unsearchable, that there are no limits to the depth of God’s knowledge. Open Theists have to disagree. They have set limits to God’s knowledge. They cannot marvel at the depths of God’s wisdom and knowledge because their god is flying blind part of the time and makes mistakes, repents of his miscalculations, and changes his plans due to unforeseen events. Their god is not worthy of such praise.
Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. Hebrews 4:13
Again Paul testifies to the totality of, and the comprehensive nature of, God’s knowledge of all his creatures.
Any doctrine of God at variance with these texts is seriously defective. The god of the Open Theists has failed the test of Scripture. He is not our God. And they are not believers in our God. They have another god who is no god, but merely a product of their futile imaginations.
Conclusion: Open Theism is a dangerous heresy. It destroys the doctrine of God. It exalts man and his free will and degrades God to an impotent bystander in his creation, struggling to stay in control of events that are unfolding in a way he never planned. It subverts the Scriptural testimony to God’s power, greatness, and sovereignty. It also demonstrates the dangers of Arminianism. It shows the horrible and heretical nature of a rigorous and logically consistent Arminianism. It shows why such Arminians are not Christians. They have rejected the God of the Bible and idolatrously exalted man and his free will. Thankfully, most Arminians are far more Calvinist in their hearts than their theology will admit. Perhaps Open Theism will demonstrate to them the dangers inherent in their theology and lead them to a reexamination of the Scriptural testimony, not only to the sovereignty of God in all things, but especially to his sovereignty in salvation. Truly, salvation is of the Lord, who has known from the foundation of the world them that are his in Christ, and who has guaranteed that not one of them can be lost. Hallelujah and Amen!
Note: Material from the website http://www.carm.org/open.htm was helpful in providing an overview of Open Theism in the preparation of this article.