the Error of Open Theology
August 2008

"All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." Psalm 139:16b

Open theology is a wrong answer to two questions:
1) Why did an Almighty, good, loving God create beings who would do evil?
2) Does complete knowledge of the future force us to be puppets, and relieve us of any comprehensible responsibility?

Open theology answers these questions incorrectly, by saying there is no certain future knowledge, and God is learning too. God does not know everything about the future with certainty.

A person can be a genuine Christian and believe open theology, but open theology is a serious error that greatly changes a person's perception of God.

This paper briefly describes open theology, exactly why it is unbiblical, and the ultimate issues with open theology. Finally, it will give Biblical answers to the two questions of the creation of evil, and knowledge not being coercion.

Synopsis of Open Theology

Open theology in general agrees with historic Christianity that God is almighty, and that everything God chooses to do happens. God knows everything about the past and present, and God is very good at predicting the future. God also knows some of the future in that He knows what He intends to do. He knows generalities about the future, such as many will go to Heaven and many will perish in Hell. But open theology says:
In time only: God exists and moves in time (as Jesus did on earth), but God is not also timeless: God only exists in time.
God's Ignorance: God did not know the destiny of a particular individual when He created the individual.
God Has to Forecast: God predicts what might happen when He does things, but God does not know for certain what happens, except that His Almighty power can correct anything He does not allow.
So when Romans 8:28 says that everything works together for God for those who love God, they would view this promise as God is wise enough and powerful enough, that God will never permit anything to happen that is so bad God cannot correct things to work out in some good way for believers.

Three Sub-views with Open Theology

Now there are three possible strains within the error of open theology.

a) Cannot lose salvation view: At the time a person puts their faith in Christ, God chooses them, and from then on this individual is one of the elect. Thus an open theology "closes" and the destiny of a saved person is irrevocably set, but open theology only has an open destiny for those not saved yet.
Proverbs 16:4 refutes this: "God has made all things for Himself, even the wicked for the day of evil." Romans 9 says: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." Romans 9 explicitly says that God chose to love Jacob more, before either one was even born.

b) Temporarily part of the elect: When a person puts their faith in Christ, God chooses them conditioned on their continued obedience. A person could be a part of the elect, and then later not be a part of the elect.
This is similar to getting saved by grace, but staying saved by works. Taken to extreme, a person could be part of the elect on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and lose his salvation on Thursday through Saturday, only to regain it again on Sunday. Hopefully that person will die on a good day! On the contrary, Hebrews 6:4-12 shows that if someone falls away from their "taste" of Christ, they will not come back.

c) Only elect at death. A person can never leave the group of the elect (like the first view), but nobody is chosen by God until they die.
Romans 16:2 and 2 John 1,13 contradict this view; Rufus and a sister were called "chosen in the Lord". 2 Timothy 2:19 says "The Lord knows those who are his" This does not say the Lord guesses who are his, the Lord predicts who are his, or the Lord speculates on who are His, but the Lord knows who are His.

Why All of Open Theology is Unbiblical

While the previous section shows why three particular strains of open theology have their problems, open theology as a whole is unbiblical. An answer consistent with open theology is given in italics, followed by a rebuttal.

1 John 3:20 says that God knows everything.
An Open Answer: God knows every thing that has happened or is happening. The future things are not "things" yet.
Rebuttal: The Bible consistently gives us confidence that God knows the future; saying God is only a very competent historian goes against the encouragement of this and other verses.

Psalm 139:16 "All the days written for me were in your book, before one of them came to be"
An Open Answer: (I do not know how Open Theology handles this verse.)
Rebuttal: This verse clearly shows that God already knew each day of a person's life before he or she was born.

Romans 8:29 "For those he foreknew he called..."
An Open Answer: God foreknew in general that some people would be saved.
Rebuttal: This verse says that God chose and predestined those He foreknew.

Ephesian 1:4-5,11 says that we were chosen before the foundation of the world, having been predestined.
An Open Answer: This verse means only that the class of believers in general were chosen for heaven.
Rebuttal: That would mean that this was a choice where no one in particular was chosen. There is no comfort in saying "we were all chosen, but the actual number of people chosen is zero"

2 Timothy 2:10 and Titus 1:1 mention for the sake of God's elect.
An Open Answer:
Paul is not talking about anyone in particular, just a class of people. Alternately in the first strain, Paul is talking of the saved.
Rebuttal: If it is just a class of people, then Paul is not preaching for the sake of anyone in particular. For the first strain of Open Theology, was Paul wrong to use the word "elect" when he should have said saved? When Paul preached the gospel for the sake of the elect, he was not merely preaching the gospel to those already saved. He preached the gospel to the lost, hoping they would become saved.

Proverbs 16:4: "God has made all things for Himself, even the wicked for the day of evil."
An Open Answer:
God is not the author of anyone being wicked, but for the people and demons who chose to join the class of the wicked, their creation will only have been for the day of evil.
Rebuttal: Notice that in this open answer, God did not have the purpose of creation, the person retroactively made their own purpose of creation.

Romans 9 says God loved Jacob more than Esau before either was born. Ignoring for a moment how God chooses before people were born, this chapter at the very least shows that God knows whether He wants to love an individual before they are born.
An Open Answer:
What God did for these two individuals does not necessarily hold for everyone.
Rebuttal: If God chose the destiny of even two individuals before they were born, then open theology falls. Furthermore, Paul was not writing historical irrelevancies in Romans 9, but applying his point to people in general. Also, one cannot say God chose for these two based on the different factors of their environment and upbringing, because they had the same external factors: being twins brought up by the same parents.

Acts 13:48 "All who were appointed for eternal life believed."
An Open Answer:
In this case, for everybody who listened and did not believe at that time, none of them ended up believing later.
Rebuttal: While the open answer says believing made them appointed, the plain reading of this verse indicates the appointing had an effect on their believing. Do people have faith because God appoints, or does God appoint beforehand because people have faith, or both? Calvinists say the first only, and many non-Calvinists say both interact. Open theology says neither: God only appoints afterward because people have faith.

The Ultimate Issue with Open Theology

All Christians, including those who hold to open theology, agree that:

a) God is just to hold us responsible for our actions.

b) No one, not even Satan, can blame God for either creating them to be evil, or forcing them to do anything evil.

But how do these things work out? There are a variety of answers, but all of these answers fall short.

People are puppets: God holds people accountable for things He did not give them the ability to do, and indeed, in God's secret will He did not want them to do. Hyper-Calvinism tends to this view.

Reducing God's Power: God is not completely happy with the way things have turned out either. God would like it to be better, but poor God is powerless, without violating our free will. By the way, was Paul's free will "violated" on the road to Damascus?

Reducing God's Knowledge: This is the route Open Theology takes.

It is simply a mystery: This is the route most Calvinists and even some non-Calvinists take. For example, Lorraine Boettner says, we have free agency (but not free will) like goldfish can swim freely in a bowl. "Predestination and free agency are the twin pillars of a great temple, and they meet above the clouds where the human gaze cannot penetrate. (p.222) R.C. Sproul dislikes the parallel lines analogy (Chosen by God p.40).. On one hand there is nothing wrong with saying you do not understand something. But a general plea of ignorance on this can provide fertile ground for open theology, which claims to provide an answer when others only plead ignorance. However, is it really true that the Bible reveals no clues to us about how these things work out? No, the Bible does show us.

The Correct Answer to the Two Questions

It would be strange to criticize a wrong answer without having any better answer in stead; it is only fair when open theology advocates ask in return what our answer is and have an opportunity to critique that. Here it is in brief.

1) Why did an Almighty, good, loving God create beings who would do evil?

God created plants and animals, which can only do what their nature dictates. Poison ivy acts like poison ivy, but no one says a poison ivy plant is culpable for what it is forced to be. It is amoral: neither morally good or evil.

God created us differently. God chose to create being who could themselves choose, not with pretend choices, but with real choices that have real and eternal consequences.

For God to create beings with the ability to choose evil instead of good, they must really have the freedom to choose evil.

The Bible says that God created Lucifer, who chose to fall and became Satan. If your own view of the goodness of God precludes God being able to create beings that can choose evil, you need to change your view of God to conform to the Bible.

2) Does complete knowledge of the future force us to be puppets, and relieve us of any comprehensible responsibility?

The issue is not really God's 100% certain knowledge of the future, but rather any certain knowledge of the future. But certain knowledge of the future would only eliminate our freedom and responsibility if God were limited in time like we are. Perhaps an example will help.

You can read in a history book that the Emperor Nero killed many Christians. Did your knowledge of Nero's choices in any way force Nero to make his awful decision? Now suppose you could travel in a time machine back in time to before Nero was born. You also took the history book with you. Now did your knowledge somehow coerce Nero to do what He did?

If not, then God's knowledge by itself, alone without any action, does not make anything happen either. We have the responsibility, as 2 Thessalonians 2:10 says those who perish are deceived because they refuse to love the truth and so be saved.

God is No Cosmic Weatherman!

God is not a cosmic weatherman, who predicts the future, sometimes correctly, sometimes incorrectly. Moreover, God is not merely a perfect forecaster, who does nothing more than get everything started and try to persuade people either.

God is Sovereign! Among other things, this means that everything He forbids to occur, He knows with 100% certainty that it will never occur. See Isaiah 43:13; Romans 11:29; Job 1:12; 2:6; and James 4:15 for examples of this.

Everything that God commands to occur, He knows with 100% certainty that it will occur. See Isaiah 14:24,27; 43:13; 55:11; John 10:29; Hebrews 6:17; Matthew 28:18 for this. See examples in Daniel 9:26; 11:27,35,36; 12:1.

Let's remember that God can do as He pleases. Matthew 20:15; Psalm 115:3; 135:6; Romans 9:20; Daniel 4:35.

We Can Make God Sad

However, in Matthew 23:37 Jesus says, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing." God can be saddened by our will.

As Francis Schaeffer said in The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century: "We can glorify God, and both the Old and New Testament say that we can even make God sad. That is tremendous." (Hymns for the People of God no.364.) Schaeffer is simply echoing what Luke 19:41-44 and Jeremiah 4:19-22: 9:1 say.

Not only can we do things that make God sad as Shaeffer says, people can do things that make God very angry, as Jeremiah 5:29; 8:19; 12:8; and Ezekiel 8:6 show. On the other hand, 2 Corinthians 8:17 shows that we can do some things to please God on our own initiative.

God is Sovereign! The only thing that limits God is that God can choose to limit Himself. God has chosen to create beings that can make real decisions, within the limits God has chosen.

How Does Evil Exist Under an All-Knowing, Almighty God?

The answer is two words: permissive decrees. Charles Hodge of Princeton Theological Seminary, said, "God never decrees to do, or to cause others to do what He forbids. He may, as we see He does, decree to permit what He forbids. He permits men to sin, although sin is forbidden." (Curt Daniel's Dissert. p.230). In Chosen by God p.97 R.C. Sproul writes "[God] ordained the Fall in the sense that he chose to allow it, but not in the sense that he chose to coerce it."

However, while God has allowed many people to successfully resist His commanded will (Acts 7:38,51; 4:11; 13:46; 14:2; 2 Corinthians 6:1, etc.) not even Satan's rebellion can go beyond the limits God has permitted (Job 1:12; 2:6).


Things would be so simple if either God did not have the degree of control that the Bible shows, or if God chose to totally initiate everything, including all evil, contrary to what the Bible shows. The truth, the wonderful truth, is that the Almighty Sovereign God has chosen to genuinely interact in a true relationship.

For more info please contact Christian Debater™ P.O. Box 144441 Austin, TX 78714

by Steven M. Morrison, PhD.