Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

On Divine Ambivalence: Open Theism and the Problem of Particular Evils

Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

On Divine Ambivalence: Open Theism and the Problem of Particular Evils

Article excerpt

Throughout the history of the Christian Church, orthodox theologians have claimed that God is an omniscient being who has exhaustive knowledge of the whole scope of cosmic history. God's knowledge is exhaustive, they argue, because he knows all true propositions about everything that has been, is, and will be, and he does so in a manner that extends to the minutiae of past, present, and future reality. But if it is indeed true that God knows everything there is to know about the whole scope of cosmic history, then how are we to conceive of the relationship between divine omniscience and human freedom? Must we conclude that we are less than genuinely free because God knows everything there is to know about what has been, is, and will be-including the future free decisions of his creatures? Or, must we rather acknowledge that God is less than exhaustively omniscient because we in fact are significantly free?

Whereas orthodox theologians have historically maintained that the perceived tension between divine omniscience and human freedom can be satisfactorily explained by conceiving of omniscience in any one of several ways that neither undermine the authenticity of human freedom nor compromise the scope of God's sovereign knowledge,' contemporary postconservative theologians would have us believe that such conceptions no longer pass muster. New interpretations of the relationship between divine omniscience and human freedom are in order, they argue, not only because classical interpretations are lacking in exegetical sophistication, but also because traditional interpretations are no longer palatable to philosophically astute theologians living at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

How, then, do these theologians suppose that we should conceive of the relationship between divine omniscience and human freedom? Should we resolve the apparent tension by suggesting that we are free but God is less than exhaustively omniscient? Or, should we rather conclude that God in fact is exhaustively omniscient but our freedom is a mere illusion? This essay examines and critiques the resolution to these questions that is proposed by the school of thought known as Open Theism, and it does so through an analysis of selected works by Gregory Boyd, one of Open Theism's most articulate defenders. It suggests, in short, that the openness program is "deeply flawed"2 not only because it is essentially incoherent, but, more importantly, because it undermines the believer's confidence in precisely that which it purports to champion, namely the love of God for his people.

I. THE OMNISCIENCE OF GOD AND HUMAN FREEDOM: THE OPENNESS SOLUTION

Open theists insist that the perceived tension between the omniscience of God and the freedom of man can be resolved only by redefining the precise nature of God's omniscience. Genuine human freedom and the omniscience of God can be reconciled, they argue, only when we acknowledge that there are some things that even an omniscient God simply cannot know. While God can know all true propositions about the past and present and can, on the basis of that knowledge and his knowledge of his own future activity, know a good deal about future reality, his omniscience does not extend to the details of future reality in an exhaustive fashion. Why? The following quotation by Gregory Boyd articulates the typical answer. "In the Christian view God knows all reality-everything there is to know. But," Boyd argues, to assume He knows ahead of time how every person is going to freely act assumes that each person's free activity is already there to know-even before he freely does it! But it's not. If we have been given freedom, we create the reality of our decisions by making them. And until we make them, they don't exist. Thus, in my view at least, there simply isn't anything to know until we make it there to know. So God can't foreknow the good or bad decisions of the people He creates until He creates these people and they, in turn, create their decisions. …

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