The Mode of Divine Knowledge in Reformation Arminianism and Open Theism

Article excerpt

In recent years, open theism has engendered a plethora of critical interactions. One recurring criticism is that the movement is a theological novelty without precedent in the history of Christianity.1 Although at times it is recognized that many open theists began as Arminians, it is argued that their adoption of open theism moves them beyond the scope of Arminian theology and some suggest altogether outside the pale of the Christian theological traditions.2 Arminian theologian Robert E. Picirilli argues that open theism's rejection of exhaustive divine foreknowledge is "too radical a break with classic Arminian theism to maintain a 'family' relationship."3 Even Clark H. Pinnock seems uncertain, given its modifications of Arminianism, whether it stands within or without of the Arminian tradition.4 The theological controversy over open theism has also provoked institutional struggles, not least in our very own Evangelical Theological Society.

In the following, I reconsider the "family" relationship between Arrninianism and open theism particularly in light of Picirilli's charge that they are incompatible theologies.5 The relationship of open theism to Arminianism is important, because the conclusion reached on this issue has the potential to further divide or unite evangelicals. On the one hand, if open theism is part of the Arminian theological tradition and criticisms of open theism apply more broadly to Arminianism, then this controversy could further divide evangelicals-i.e. Reformed groups versus open theists and Arminians. Yet on the other hand, if open theism is part of the Arminian tradition, then perhaps recognition of this point can assist in transcending the categories of heterodoxy and orthodoxy that frequently characterize this debate.

I support the latter option by arguing that open theism is part of the Arminian theological trajectory, because they share identical theories of the mode of divine knowledge. I focus on the mode of divine knowledge in respect to libertarian choices and actions, because it gets to the heart of the theological controversy over open theism and its relationship to Arminianism. The mode of divine knowledge refers to the manner in which or how it is that God knows libertarian choices and their consequent actions. I argue further that since Arminianism's affirmation of divine foreknowledge of future libertarian choices and open theism's rejection of the same both derive from an epistemological disagreement over whether future libertarian choices are legitimate objects of knowledge, this is not at root a theological disagreement. Moreover, this epistemological disagreement is secondary to their more fundamental theological consistency concerning the mode of divine knowledge.

Before proceeding further, a clarification of the term "Reformation Arminianism" is in order. I use the term because Picirilli uses it. He has defined it as that form of Arminian theology that reflects the thought of Jacob Arminius.6 It is called "Reformed" in a broad sense that denotes Arminius's commitment to central doctrines of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformers.7 I selected Picirilli's description of Reformation Arminianism because it is a contemporary Arminian interaction with open theism and it also reflects a common Arminian position in North American Evangelicalism. In addition, he directly engages open theism and, as noted, wants to excise it from the Arminian theological family tree.


Picirilli outlines the basic affirmations of Reformation Arminianism as adherence to the notions that "the future is certain and foreknown by God," and that the certainty of the future and God's foreknowledge of it in no way undermines human freedom and moral responsibility.8 In order to consistently maintain that the future is certain, that it is foreknown by God, and that human beings are free, he adopts libertarian freedom, the consequential and historical nature of divine knowledge relative to libertarian choices and actions, and the timeless nature of God's knowledge. …