December 2, 2020

The Council

Proclaiming the truth to the world.

Is Open Theism a Proper Representation of the God of Scripture? Matt Slick vs Will Duffy

I’ll be taking a look at the Will Duffy debate with Matt Slick on Open Theism. Will Duffy provided his opening statement on his website and I’ll be using that to criticize. I will not be responding to the whole thing but only some of it that I see fit.

Duffy states:

Tonight’s debate resolution is whether or not open theism is a proper representation of the God of scripture. I argue the affirmative, that open theism properly represents God. Before defining open theism, I want to make two bold statements.

Bold statement #1: Only open theists believe in predestination and foreknowledge.

The term predestination means “to determine beforehand” and foreknowledge means “to know beforehand”. Settled view theists (the opposite of open theists) believe God is outside of time
and therefore does everything simultaneously and never does or knows one thing before or after another. So only open theists believe that the literal definitions of these words apply to God,
as we believe God lives and acts in time, in sequence.

So only open theists believe that the literal definitions of these words apply to God,
as we believe God lives and acts in time, in sequence.

Duffy states that only Open Theist can maintain God’s foreknowledge and predestination. That is actually false, given the fact that many Open Theists maintain the future is completely unknowable. At best Duffy could state that only particular kinds of Open Theist can maintain that God predestined things and has foreknowledge. Duffy doesn’t define his particular form of Open Theism. This leaves us wondering what his actual position is. Why does God know certain future events and not others? Are these events knowable and God simply isn’t aware or are these events open and unknowable? In what sense did God predestine anything on Open Theism? 

The reasons he supposes only Open Theist can affirm such things is quite naive to the actual perspectives of his opponents. Some non-Open Theist maintains that God is timeless sans creation (William Lane Craig), others maintain God is both temporal and timeless(John Frame and Bruce Ware), and others think God is temporal, and some maintain God is eternal(Helm, Leftow). I take it when Duffy references foreknowledge here he isn’t speaking to the ideas in Romans 8 and elsewhere. The word there has OT connotations about God’s choice to elect individuals. He is speaking in a philosophical sense. It also so happens to be the case that some philosophers that argue that a timeless God does possess foreknowledge. Paul Helm argued such:

So, that is more of an assertion than an argument. 

Duffy states:
Bold statement #2: Only open theists believe prayer can change the outcome of an event.

If the future is settled, as my opponent believes, prayer cannot change the foreknown outcome of an event. Consider an extremely sick child. Prayers are offered up for wisdom on how to treat the child’s illness. According to the settled view, all the prayers offered for that child never had a chance to change the outcome.

Why not? Because the actual outcome was settled because it was, as some believe, predestined, or as others believe, at least foreknown, before the foundation of the world, and by those views, nothing, not even God, could change it.

Open theists believe that prayer can change the outcome of an event. Since the future is open, and not settled, God has the ability to intervene. He is not bound by the future, but rather, He can change the impending future.

This is also a more controversial point to the issue of whether God needs to be temporal in order to answer prayer, but Christians have discussed these issues for a long time and responses to these types of charges:

Calvinism has a resource over and above classical Christian theism, a resource lacking in freewill theism. If God has planned everything in advance, then whatever happens in time and space is the exemplification of God’s extramundane plan. Dialogue, “reaction,” interaction, were written into the script before the curtain rises. Those are built-in features. There’s nothing incongruous about a timeless predestinarian God dialoguing with Abraham, or answering prayer.
To take a comparison, it’s been said that Alfred Hitchcock filmed his movies in his head before he actually directed them. It was just a logistical question of filming what he imagined. Outwardly depicting his mental picture. He saw it all in his imagination before he had stagehands build sets, before he directed actors, before he shot on location, before the cameras rolled. Another example is sculpture. The 3D image that emerges from the marble slab is the result of the sculptor’s prior mental image. He didn’t see that in the marble. Rather, he chisels out of the marble what he first saw in his own mind. He objectifies his preconception. The statue is a physical projection of a mental image, superimposed on stone. Of course, freewill theists resent the idea that we are basically storybook characters come to life. They find that humiliating. But that’s the price you pay to be a creature. It’s either that or nothing. We are the effects of Someone else’s mind.

Duffy states:
Open theism is the Christian doctrine that the future is open and not settled, because God is eternally free and inexhaustibly creative. The settled view, which is comprised mainly of Calvinists and Arminians, disagrees that the future is open and as a result claims that God cannot think a new thought and so His creativity is not inexhaustible but completed.

Christians who believe the future is settled, like my opponent Matt Slick, are forced to abandon God’s free will. When they argue people can’t really choose other than what actually happens and claim human beings do not have libertarian free will, they don’t even think God has libertarian free will.

For God to have free will, to be truly free, means God has the freedom and ability to think new thoughts, to write new songs, to design new butterflies, even to decree something new. But settled view theists believe God cannot do this. They believe the future is determined and settled, even for God Himself. God is essentially stuck in fate, similar to Zeus. My opponent tonight is a Calvinist. And Calvinists believe God freely and unchangeably ordained whatsoever comes to pass.

So my opponent believes God no longer has the ability to do anything other than what He decreed. His creativity has essentially ceased. God can’t even think a new thought.

So that’s about God’s Freedom.

Well, Libertarian Freedom seems to be incoherent. I quoted Dr. John Frame in my article to show the tension between Libertarian Freedom and coherence:

The most radical attack on divine aseity in our day comes from the so-called open theists, Clark Pinnock, John Sanders, Gregory Boyd, William Hasker, and others. For these, God was once a se but he somehow renounced his aseity so that now he cannot accomplish his goals without the free choices of creatures. So in the present world, nothing is a se. In one sense, open theism wants to attribute aseity to the human free will. On the open theists’ libertarian concept of freedom, human free decisions have no cause: not God, not the natural order, not even their own desires. But if my decision is not caused by my desire, then it is something I don’t want to do. So even I do not cause my free decisions. They are random, arbitrary, irrational events, like the realm of Prime Matter among the Greeks. Not only does this view fail to give a rational account of free choice, it makes any such account impossible. The rationalism of the open theists (seeking a definitive explanation of divine sovereignty and human responsibility) has them to posit a principle of sheer irrationality.

Dr. John Frame- Divine Aseity and Apologetics

The question of Divine Freedom is an interesting question. The two popular views that exist in the Reformed camp is that God has the ability to create another possible world or this world is the only possible world. So, depending on your view of freedom, that will determine whether you think God is free or not. If you are a libertarian, then nobody is free but that position is question begging if no argument is provided for indeterminism. So, God would be free on each of these views because they all define freedom differently. For further reflection read this:

I am not sure why everyone in these debates compares each other’s thoughts to the ancient Greek thinkers. I think that may sometimes have contextual help for dealing with the ANE and the Pauline corpus. There exists an argument against Open Theism via polemical theology in the Bible. But a blank comparison between Yahweh and the ancient Greek gods hardly proves much. The obvious disanalogy between greek fate and the God of the Bible is that God isn’t subject to arbitrary external forces. The Open Theist is actually closer to the ancient Greek paganism. God in Open Theist thought is subject to external forces and he is a humanoid-like being that lacks knowledge. So, I’m not sure where that gets Duffy.

Duffy states:
Now the Incarnation.

This is arguably the most significant event in God’s history. And it’s at the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the most central doctrine in Christianity. I claim tonight that the Incarnation proves open theism. Settled view theologians have long held that God is outside of time, meaning He does not experience sequence. But that idea did not come from the Bible. That came from pagan Greek philosophy. And the Incarnation utterly refutes this claim.

The Incarnation shows that God Himself exists in sequence because He became a man. Therefore, He has a past, as God was not always a Man. (Claiming God was eternally a man is heretical as it makes God’s existence dependent upon man’s existence.)

The Trinity existed through eternity past and God the Son was not yet the Son of Man. This is why the Old Testament says repeatedly that God is not a man or “son of man”. But today it would be heresy to claim that God the Son is not a Man.

The Incarnation changed everything, permanently. God the Son became a man. He became the Son of Man. And while the Old Testament says repeatedly that God is not a Son of Man, Jesus in the New Testament refers to Himself as a Son of Man more than any other title. It was His favorite way to describe Himself.

The Bible does not contradict itself. God can’t be both a Son of man and NOT a Son of Man at the same time. A change took place. And this change was the Incarnation of God the Son. He took on a human nature for the first time in His existence. He went from one nature (a divine nature) to two natures (both human and divine). The union of these two natures is often referred to by theologians as the hypostatic union. And God the Son did not have this hypostatic union of two natures in eternity past. The hypostatic union came about at the Incarnation, not before. And note that the sequential change here did not just affect God the Son. For example, God the Father also experienced sequence as His Son increased in favor with the Father, and He had become the Father of a Son with two natures.

As you can see, the Incarnation irrefutably shows that God Himself lives in sequence. God has a past. In eternity past, the second person of the Trinity had only one nature and since the Incarnation, even right now in heaven at the right hand of the Father, God the Son has two natures and will have two natures forever.

… No one should call every verse that contradicts their theology an anthropomorphism.

In Genesis 6 God says He is sorry that He made man, He repents that He made them, because they became so wicked, so He actually wiped out the population of the Earth.

Dr. James Anderson points out the Incarnation is an extrinsic change to his divine nature. So, Duffy’s point is a dud.

Duffy states that we shouldn’t state that all the text that contradict the classical theist view of God shouldn’t be called anthropomorphic. The issue with that response is that it assumes that these texts aren’t anthropomorphic. That is the very issue in debate. The issue I point out with the Open Theist hermeneutic is that if you were consistent with it you would end up in a contradictory theology. I argued this elsewhere:

I wonder why so many people find it difficult to see that Genesis 6 is anthropomorphic. The verse is to show God displeasure with that sinful generation. I think that is easily figured out. God can’t repent as we know from other verses. The repenting language usually conveys to us God’s moral will. God paints himself in vivid human imagery so we can learn and understand a transcendent divine being.