The God of the Bible is omniscient and has a perfect plan from beginning to end. That is a major tenet of Christianity, is it not? However, a few centuries ago a heresy sprung up called Open Theism. It is the teaching that God does not know the future; history is open and unsure, rather than closed, certain, and set in stone. This notion has gained popularity, and has snuck into many churches. Sadly it is often considered a more peripheral matter up for debate, such as believer’s vs. infant baptism. But no, this doctrine is blasphemy and cannot be allowed to creep into our churches and deceive God’s people.
The root of the issue
In any debate it is important to get to the heart of the issue rather than volleying peripheral points back and forth. So it is in the case of Open Theism. You can (as is properly so) quote all of the Scriptures concerning God’s foreknowledge, but until you get to the root behind their heresy, you may not get through to them. So what is the root of their belief? They are trying to preserve “free will”. Clark Pinnock reasons, “If God is changeless in every aspect of his being and knows history, there cannot be genuine freedom.”1
Therefore, much of their belief rests on the shaky foundation that men are given a free will. They start with this presupposition, and then reason that in order for our choices to be truly free, they cannot be foreknown. They say that if an action or decision is seen before it happens, then it is fixed, and if fixed, then it is not truly a free choice. Now, can you think of the verse in the Bible that says man’s will is completely unaffected by outside stimuli or coercion from God? Or the verse where God says He will leave us to ourselves and never plant any thought or motive in our head that was not there before? I hope you are scratching your head and clueless, because that verse does not exist! And further, the Bible in many places teaches the exact opposite! The classic example, of course, being the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. But for a few other examples,
- Deuteronomy 2:30 “But Sihon king of Heshbon was not willing for us to pass through his land, for the LORD your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, in order to deliver him into your hand, as he is today.”
- Joshua 11:19-20 “There was not a city which made peace with the sons of Israel except the Hivites living in Gibeon; they took them all in battle. For it was of the LORD to harden their hearts, to meet Israel in battle in order that he might utterly destroy them, that they might receive no mercy, but that he might destroy them, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.”
- Psalm 105:25 “He turned their heart to hate His people, to deal craftily with His servants.”
- Proverbs 16:1, 9 “The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD… The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.”
- Proverbs 21:1 “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wills.”
- Revelatin 17:17 “For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled.”
So there we have it. Their presupposition is shattered. There is no reason to believe God preserves our free will. And so, before we even enter into the debate, and before quoting Scriptures concerning God’s foreknowledge, we already see that their belief has no ground.
God’s perfect and infinite foreknowledge
It is really hard to find a more plain teaching in God’s Word. How many times in the Bible does God prophesy? He is always declaring the future! How often did Jesus and the Apostles teach concerning the end times? If we didn’t hold to God’s foreknowledge, we would have to say Christ’s mission could have failed; that God’s plans for our lives are out of His hands; and that the prophesies of Christ concerning the future are all up in the air and may not come to pass. We can sit here all night amplifying the practical issues that this heresy produces, but most importantly it contradicts the Scriptures.
The Scriptures are laden with God’s foreknowledge, fulfilled prophesy, etc. For the sake of brevity, I will only focus on one portion of Scripture. In Isaiah Chapters 40-48 we find some of the richest Theology Proper the Bible has to offer. (For your own enrichment, read these chapters and stand in awe!) In this passage we much teaching concerning God’s foreknowledge.
Isaiah 41:21-24 ” ‘Present your case,’ the LORD says. ‘Bring forward your strong arguments,’ The King of Jacob says. Let them bring forth and declare to us what is going to take place; as for the former events, declare what they were, that we may consider them and know their outcome. Or announce to us what is coming; declare the things that are going to come afterward, that we may know that you are gods; indeed, do good or evil, that we may anxiously look about us and fear together. Behold, you are of no account, and your work amounts to nothing; he who chooses you is an abomination.”
God is showing the folly of idolatry. As in other places in Scripture, He shows that idols, being a block of wood, are inanimate. Here, He challenges them to do anything in order to prove that they truly are gods. One test for their deity repeated in this passage is that they “declare…what is going to take place” and to “announce…what is coming” (v. 22). We can thus argue that foreknowledge is essential to God’s character. These idols are not gods, for they cannot tell the future, but the LORD is God for He can. Motyer describes what is going on here like this, “His contention, sensibly, is that deity will show itself in two ways: by actions (23d) demonstrating life, and by predictions demonstrating sovereign rule over the world in all its complexity. A real God will show himself by speaking his word and then watching over his word to bring it to pass (Num. 23:19; Jer. 1:9, 11).”2 These idols have failed both tests.
Isaiah 44:6-8 “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me. Who is like Me? Let him proclaim and declare it; yes, let him recount it to Me in order, from the time that I established the ancient nation. And let them declare to them the things that are coming and the events that are going to take place. Do not tremble and do not be afraid; have I not long since announced it to you and declared it? And you are My witnesses. Is there any God besides Me, or is there any other Rock? I know of none.’ ”
Here again God is upholding foreknowledge as a standard for deity. These statues can not tell the future, which proves they are not gods. Further, they cannot recount Israel’s history. The LORD, however, has proven Himself for the are “witnesses” that God’s former prophesies have come true.
Isaiah 44:24-26 “Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, ‘I, the LORD, am the maker of all things, stretching out the heavens by Myself and spreading out the earth all alone, causing the omens of boasters to fail, making fools out of diviners, causing wise men to draw back and turning their knowledge into foolishness, confirming the word of His servant and performing the purpose of His messengers.’ ”
God is saying much more here than simply, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men” (1 Cor. 1:25). Don’t miss it! Not only is God saying that He is far wiser than their wise men, but He also says that He makes sure that the predictions of their diviners don’t come to pass! God frustrates their superstitions to prove that He alone can tell the future, and that I alone prophesy and then bring it to pass Himself.
Isaiah 45:21 “Declare and set forth your case; indeed, let them consult together. Who has announced this from of old? Who has long since declared it? Is it not I, the LORD? And there is no other God besides Me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none except Me.”
God is asking them Who it was that predicted the fall of Babylon and restoration of Israel. The hearers should think and remember the previous prophesies and realize that the LORD, and not their idols, is God and the One in control of history. God’s Word goes forth from His mouth and will not return (v 23). Therefore, men ought to run to this almighty and all-knowing God for salvation (v. 22) instead of in a wooden idol who cannot save (v. 20).
Isaiah 48:3-5 “I declared the former things long ago and they went forth from My mouth, and I proclaimed them. Suddenly I acted, and they came to pass. Because I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead bronze, therefore I declared them to you long ago, before they took place I proclaimed them to you, so that you would not say, ‘My idol has done them, and my graven image and my molten image have commanded them.’ ”
The meaning is clear: If God had not spoken, and such-and-such a victory took place, the people would think their idols accomplished that victory for them. However, the LORD had spoken of Cyrus long beforehand, saying that He free Israel and defeat Babylon through him, so that when it happens, they will know it was His doing. This God can not only predict the future, unlike molten images, but He also performs them, which an image cannot do.
So there you have it: God knows absolutely everything from beginning to end. In Responding to Open Theism Pt. 2 we will examine some texts the Open Theists use to support their theory.
1Quoted in Lutzer, Erwin W. 10 Lies About God: And the Truths that Shatter Deception (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2009), 123.
2Motyer, J. Alec Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary TOTC (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2009) p. 290.