an evaluation of
the ‘open’ view of God
A response to gregory a. boyd’s
god of the possible
By Myron J. Houghton, Ph.D., Th.D., Theology Department
Faith Baptist Theological Seminary, Ankeny, Iowa
The primary purpose of this paper is to present the major points of the open view of God as found in Dr. Gregory A. Boyd’s recent book, God of the Possible [Gregory A. Boyd, God of the Possible (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000)] and to respond to those points with an exegesis of relevant biblical passages. While I am not impartial, I intend to be fair, both in the clarity with which the major points of the book are explained and in the manner in which I respond to its major ideas.
In order to introduce my response to Dr. Boyd’s book, both the traditional view and the open view of God will be briefly presented. This will be followed by a presentation of major ideas of the open view of God as found in Dr. Boyd’s book and my response to each of these ideas. Unless otherwise identified, all Scripture quotations will be from the New King James Version of the Bible.
a. the traditional view of god
The traditional view of divine omniscience, held by Christian theologians (whether Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant, whether Calvinistic, Lutheran, Baptist or Arminian) is summarized by Enns:
The English word omniscience comes from the Latin words omnis, meaning “all,” and scientia, meaning “knowledge”; thus it means that God has all knowledge. A more comprehensive definition will state that God knows all things actual and possible, past, present, and future, in one eternal act. A number of things should be noted about God’s omniscience.
(1) God knows all things that exist in actuality (Ps. 139:1-6; 147:4; Matt. 6:8; 10:28-30). The psalmist recognized the omniscience of God in that God knew his actions,
his thoughts, his words before he even spoke them, and his entire life (Ps. 139:1-4).
(2) God knows all the variables concerning things that have not occurred. God knew what Tyre and Sidon would have done had the gospel been preached to them (Matt. 11:21).
(3) God knows all future events. Because God is eternal and knows all things in one eternal act, events that are future to man are an “eternal now” to God. He knew the nations that would dominate Israel (Dan. 2:36-43; 7:4-8), and He knows the events that will yet transpire upon the earth (Matt. 24-25; Rev. 6-19).
(4) God’s knowledge is intuitive. It is immediate, not coming through the senses; it is simultaneous, not acquired through observation or reason; it is actual, complete, and according to reality. [Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1989), 194-195]
One Catholic theologian discusses divine omniscience under the following propositions: [a] God knows all that is merely possible by the knowledge of simple intelligence; [b] God knows all real things in the past, the present and the future; [c] By the knowledge of vision (scientia visionis) God also foresees the future free acts of the rational creation with infallible certainty. [Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma 5th edition (St. Louis: B. Herder Book Company, 1962), 40-41.]
The traditional view of God’s knowledge is directly related to His decree. Berkhof, quoting the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s definition of God’s decree as “His eternal purpose according to the counsel of His will, whereby, for His own glory, He hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass,” explains:
But while the decree pertains primarily to the acts of God Himself, it is not limited to these, but also embraces the actions of His free creatures. And the fact that they are included in the decree renders them absolutely certain, though they are not all effectuated in the same manner. In the case of some things God decided, not merely that they would come to pass, but that He Himself would bring them to pass, either immediately, as in the work of creation, or through the mediation of secondary causes, which are continually energized by His power. He Himself assumes the responsibility for their coming to pass. There are other things, however, which God included in His decree and thereby rendered certain, but which He did not decide to effectuate Himself, as the sinful acts of His rational creatures. The decree, in so far as it pertains to these acts, is generally called God’s permissive decree. This name does not imply that the futurition [sic] of these acts is not certain to God, but simply that He permits them to come to pass by the free agency of His rational creatures. God assumes no responsibility for these sinful acts whatsoever. [L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1939), 102-103.]
In the traditional view of God His decree involves His knowledge of everything that will occur, whether such events occur by His determination or by His permission.
b. the open view of god
A more recent, alternative view is the open view of God, proponents of which are sometimes called “open theists.” Boyd identifies himself as such. He describes people who hold his view in the following manner:
Open theists, by contrast, hold that the future consists partly of settled realities and partly of unsettled realities. Some things about the future are possibly this way and possibly that way. Hence, precisely because they also hold that God knows all of reality perfectly, open theists believe that God knows the future as consisting of both unsettled possibilities and settled certainties. In this sense, open theists could (and should) affirm that God knows the future perfectly. It’s just that they understand the future as it is now to include genuine possibilities.
If God does not foreknow future free actions, it is not because his knowledge of the future is in any sense incomplete. It’s because there is, in this view, nothing definite there for God to know! [Boyd, 16.]
This view also teaches that God changes His mind. Boyd says, “…in the open view there is little mystery involved in accepting that God can regret his own previous decisions. Once we understand that the future is partly open and that humans are genuinely free, the paradox of how God could experience genuine regret over a decision he made disappears.” [Ibid, 57.]
To summarize Boyd's position in his own words:
We have seen that Scripture portrays God as the omniscient, sovereign Lord of history. He decrees whatever he wishes to decree. He controls whatever he chooses to control. He is never caught off guard or at a loss of options. He anticipates and ingeniously outmaneuvers his opponents. Hence, all who align themselves with him can have total confidence that he will ultimately achieve his objectives for creation.
We have also seen, however, that the passages that express this motif do not require us to believe that the future is exhaustively settled. To confess that God can control whatever he wants to control leaves open the question of how much God actually does want to control. If Scripture warrants it, there is “room” within this motif for the belief that some of the future is not determined, and thus not foreknown as settled by God. In the next chapter, we will argue that Scripture not only warrants this conclusion, it requires it. [Ibid, 51.]
c. a response to issues raised in boyd’s book
In defense of his view that the future is not fixed, Boyd discusses a number of issues throughout his book, including genuine human freedom, God's goodness and God's change of mind. In this paper, I intend to discuss these particular issues but especially to focus upon God's change of mind since Boyd develops it in detailed fashion.
1. Genuine Human Freedom
One issue concerns real human freedom to choose. Boyd asks, “if every choice you’ve ever made was certain an eternity before you made it, were you really free when you made each choice? Could you have chosen differently if it was eternally certain you’d make the choice you did?” [Boyd, God of the Possible, 10.]
My response is to say that Boyd is reading the concept backwards. The traditional concept merely states that God was passively aware of every choice we would make and falls into the permissive aspect of His decree. His certain knowledge of our choices did not cause them to be made; rather our making those choices caused God to possess that prior knowledge. Granted that Calvinists believe God’s awareness of future events is caused by His determination to bring about these events, this is not the issue under discussion. Later in his book, Boyd recognizes this point, because he says, “Classical theologians do not agree on how the future is eternally settled, however. Some follow Augustine and Calvin and maintain that the future will be a certain way because God foreknows it this way. Others follow Arminius and argue that God foreknows the future a certain way because the future simply will be that way. In other words, classical theologians disagree about what comes first. Does God’s foreknowledge determine the future, or does the future determine God’s foreknowledge? [Ibid, 22-23.]
2. God’s Goodness
A second issue concerns the goodness of God. Boyd says, “even more troubling, if God foreknew that Adolf Hitler would send six million Jews to their death, why did he go ahead and create a man like that? If I unleash a mad dog I am certain will bite you, am I not responsible for my dog’s behavior?” [Ibid, 10.]
Response # 1: According to the traditional view, God knew what Hitler would do but permitted him to do it, for reasons known only to Himself. According to the open view, God did not know what Hitler would do, so He permitted him to be born and become a leader. But God, in Boyd’s thinking, “is never caught off guard or at a loss of options. He anticipates and ingeniously outmaneuvers his opponents.” [Ibid, 51] Really? Then why didn’t God do something to prevent Hitler from carrying out his plan? Boyd’s view, therefore, falls under the same criticism he levels against the traditional view.
Response # 2: We need to realize that human beings neither define nor determine the goodness of God. When someone addressed Jesus as “Good Teacher,” He responded, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.” (Mark 10:17-18). God has the right to define His own goodness. Since God alone is both good and sovereign, He is not responsible to explain to us why He determines certain events or permits certain things to happen.
Response # 3: We need to ask ourselves whether or not we believe that God is sovereign. Boyd's statement, “If the Bible is always true—and I, for one, assume that it is…” [Ibid, 11.] ought to make it possible to examine biblical passages and expect agreement with their affirmations. One such passage, which clearly teaches God's sovereignty, states, “Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?’ But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Does not the potter have power (authority) over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?” (Romans 9:18-22). In light of this passage, should we not affirm that God is sovereign—recognizing that this sovereignty means God is in control?
3. God’s Change of Mind
A third issue concerns the biblical texts that tell us God changed His mind. Boyd asks, “If the future is exhaustively settled in God’s mind, as the classical view holds, why does the Bible repeatedly describe God changing his mind? Why does the Bible say that God frequently alters his plans, cancels prophecies in the light of changing circumstances, and speaks about the future as a ‘maybe,’ a ‘perhaps,’ or a ‘possibility’?” [Ibid.] In the second chapter of his book, Boyd discusses this issue under eight subdivisions.
a. God regrets how things turn out. —Boyd draws our attention to two biblical passages to support his point: God’s regret concerning pre-flood humanity (Genesis 6:6) and God’s regret over Saul’s kingship (1 Samuel 15:10, 35).
Response # 1: Notice that all of the biblical references to these ideas are found in the Old Testament and can be explained in anthropomorphic terms. One writer describes anthropomorphism as an attempt “to express the truth about God through human analogies” [Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1999), 294.] Passages such as Psalm 14:2-3 in which God's omniscience is described in terms of God looking over the edge of heaven to determine if anyone seeks after Him would be an example of anthropomorphism. Further, a rhetorical device used by God for the benefit of His human creatures would also be a form of anthropomorphism. Thus, when God sought Adam and Eve after they had sinned, He called, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). This question was not for God's benefit, as if He didn't know where Adam and Eve were hiding, but rather a rhetorical question for their benefit, giving them an opportunity to come out of hiding and explain what had happened. Another form of anthropomorphism would be the parent/child relationship as an analogy of God's relationship to believers, In Psalm 103:13-14 we are told, “As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.” Thus, God's willingness to bargain with Abraham about the future of Sodom in Genesis 18:16-33 was to show Abraham how wicked the city really was. Similar to this anthropomorphic form is the ruler/subject relationship as an analogy of God's relationship to the nations. This would also include passages where God's pronouncement of judgment was either explicitly or implicitly conditional, as in the book of Jonah.
While “all Scripture is profitable for doctrine” (2 Timothy 3:16), it is also true that revelation becomes progressively clearer, culminating in God’s full and final revelation through His Son. In Hebrews 1:1-2 we read, “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son…” Since in the Old Testament, God spoke “in various ways,” one might expect God to be portrayed in human terms. In New Testament revelation, God is never pictured as changing His mind or regretting decisions He has made. Instead, God is described as unchanging in His nature and attributes. Thus, in James 1:17 God is described as, “the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”
Response # 2: Regret is an emotion that is sometimes caused by information not previously possessed, but this is not always the case. One may know what bad things people will do and still express regret when those evil things are done. So regret does not require limited previous knowledge.
Response # 3: Did God know people would be sinful before He created them? Boyd doubts it. He asks, “Doesn't the fact that God regretted the way things turned out—to the point of starting over—suggest that it wasn't a foregone conclusion at the time God created human beings that they would fall into this state of wickedness?” [Ibid, 55.] By way of contrast, in 1 Peter 1:19-20, Jesus is presented as “a lamb without blemish and without spot…[who] indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times….” Clearly God knew before creation that human beings would sin and therefore He planned Christ's death as a sacrifice for sins.
Those who deny that God foresees the choice that people will make fail to understand the extent of God's power. In Psalm 147:4-5 we read, “He counts the number of the stars; He calls them all by name. Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite.” By means of this great power and understanding, the Lord was able to predict with infallible certainty that Peter would deny Him three times—no more and no less! (Matthew 26:33-35). God is able to predict what choice people would have made under certain circumstances-even though these circumstances did not occur. Thus, Jesus could condemn the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida, saying, “For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” (Matthew 11:21).
God not only foresees the free acts of men; sometimes he influences them! Thus Scripture tells us, “The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.” (Proverbs 2 1: 1). Rehoboam's refusal to listen to the people is said to be from the Lord, so that He might fulfill the promise He made to Jeroboam to give him the ten northern tribes of Israel (1 Kings 12:15; cf. 11:29-39). The Bible says that God stirred up the king of Assyria's spirit to take the Reubenites, Gadites and half the tribe of Manasseh into captivity (1 Chronicles 5:26). The Bible also says that He stirred up the spirit of the Philistines and the Arabians against King Jehoram of Judah to invade his palace and capture his possessions and most of his sons (2 Chronicles 21:16-17).
Response # 4: Deuteronomy 32:11-12 describes the relationship between God and Jacob [and his descendants], “As an eagle stirs up its nest, hovers over its young, spreading out its wings, taking them up carrying them on its wings, so the lord alone led him.” One commentary says, “Apparently the eagle taught its young to fly by throwing one out of the nest, and then swooping down and allowing the young bird to alight on its mother’s wings.” [Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976), 381.] Another commentary states, “The Lord exercised his loving care for Israel like an eagle caring for its young, especially as they are taught to fly (v. 11). The eagle, by stirring up the nest thrusts the eaglets out into the air to try their wings but does not leave them altogether on their own resources. The parent eagle catches the fluttering little ones on its outspread wings and again deposits them in the nest. Similarly the Lord took Israel out from Egypt into the deserts of Sinai but did not leave them without his help. His widespread wings supported them throughout the learning years in Sinai.” [Earl Kalland, “Deuteronomy,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Frank E. Gaebelein, General Editor (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), 3:204-205.]
Is the eagle parent being mean and cruel when it throws the eaglets out of the nest? Does not the eagle parent have a good motive in so doing? When human parents threaten punishment for their child but ‘change their mind’ when he or she responds in obedience, are they being insincere? Might not their pronouncement of punishment simply be a means by which they motivate their child to obedience? If we recognize the legitimacy of this technique in parents, could we not do so for God as well? In Psalm 103:13-14 we read, “As a father pities his children, so the lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.”
Response # 5: In the very chapter where God expresses to Samuel His regret over setting Saul up as king (1 Samuel 15:11), Samuel confronts Saul, telling him God has torn the kingdom from him and explaining, "And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor relent. For He is not a man, that He should relent" (verse 29). This points to the possibility that the statement concerning God's regret was anthropomorphic.
b. God asks questions about the future.—Boyd cites God's question to Moses, “How long will these people reject Me? And how long will they not believe Me, with all the signs which I have performed among them?” and then asks, “If God wonders about future issues, does this not imply that the future is to some extent unsettled?” [Boyd, 59.] Boyd himself recognizes that this is not the only possible way of understanding God's question. He says, “Some suggest that in these verses the Lord was asking rhetorical questions, just as he had done when he asked Adam and Eve where they were (Gen. 3:8-9). This is a possible interpretation, but not a necessary one.” [Ibid.] Why doesn't Boyd understand God's questions as rhetorical? He has already determined that the Bible presents God as uncertain of some future events. Thus one's view of God influences which interpretation seems best.
c. God confronts the unexpected.—Boyd says,
“Third, sometimes God tells us that things turn out differently than he expected. For example, in Isaiah 5 the Lord describes Israel as his vineyard and himself as its loving owner. He explains that, as the owner of the vineyard, he “expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes” (v. 2). He then asks, “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?” (v. 4). Because it unexpectedly failed to yield grapes, the Lord sadly concludes, “I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured” (v. 5).
If everything is eternally certain to God, as the classical view of foreknowledge holds, how could the Lord twice say that he “expected” one thing to occur, only to have something different occur? How could the Lord expect, hope for, and even strive (“what more was there to do?”) for something he knew from all eternity would never happen? If we take the passage at face value, does it not imply that the future of Israel, the ”vineyard,” was not certain until they settled it by choosing to yield “wild grapes”? [Ibid, 59-60.]
Response # 1: From Boyd's remarks in the previous section, it is clear he realizes that it is quite possible to understand God's questions as rhetorical. It is not a matter of taking the passage “at face value,” but of which interpretation fits with one's view of God.
Response # 2: Does God know with certainty whether or not there will be a future for Israel? The eleventh chapter of Romans answers this question in the affirmative and ties the answer to God’s foreknowledge: “I say then, has God [permanently] cast away His people? Certainly not!…God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew” (Vv. 1-2). For if, at the present time, “their being cast away is the reconciling of the [gentile] world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” (v. 15). How can God be so certain the restoration of Israel will be brought about? We are told:
Blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come out of Zion and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; For this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.” Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. (Vv. 25-29).
This passage supports a view of God in which Israel is presently set aside from God's program, both because they failed to respond to God's word in faith (v. 20) and because it is God's plan to do such in order that Gentiles might be saved (Vv. 11-15), a view of God in which He is not surprised but sovereign, in which He turns ungodliness away from Israel and saves them—a salvation rooted in God's irrevocable covenant with and love for Israel's forefathers (Vv. 25-29).
d. God gets frustrated. Boyd tells us,
…throughout Scripture we find God being frustrated as people stubbornly resist his plan for their lives. This dominant feature of the biblical narrative is hard to square with the view that the entire future is eternally settled. …
For example, several times the Lord tried to convince Moses that he could use him despite his speech impediment. Moses repeatedly refused to accept this (Exod. 4:10-15). Finally, Scripture says, “the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses and he said, ‘What of your brother Aaron, the Levite? I know he can speak fluently’” (v. 14). God was clearly frustrated by Moses’ persistent unbelief. [Ibid, 62]
Response # 1: Nothing in this narrative states that God was frustrated.
Response # 2: Nothing in this narrative suggests God did not know what the response of Moses to His call would be.
a. God tests people to know their character. Boyd states, “The fifth and strongest group of passages we’ve examined thus far that suggest the future is not exhaustively settled shows that God frequently tests his covenant partners to see if they will choose to follow him or not.” [Ibid, 63]
Response # 1: When evidence to the contrary from Scripture is presented against this point, Boyd’s response is less than satisfying. He explains:
Perhaps the most familiar example is when the Lord tells Peter he will deny him three times before morning (Matt. 26:33-35). Contrary to the assumption of many, we do not need to believe that the future is exhaustively settled to explain this prediction. We only need to believe that God the Father knew and revealed to Jesus one very predictable aspect of Peter’s character. Anyone who knew Peter’s character perfectly could have predicted that under certain highly pressured circumstances (that God could easily orchestrate), he would act just the way he did. [Ibid, 35]
There are two problems with Boyd’s response. First, it does not take into account the fact that Christ predicted Peter would deny Him three times—no more and no less. Second, Boyd’s view of God here—as One Who knows how people will react under certain circumstances and Who orchestrates those circumstances—is not consistent with his view of God elsewhere as One Who gets frustrated and Who regrets earlier decisions.
Response # 2: Once again the issue is the intended meaning of these passages, and that, in turn, hinges on what the interpreter believes about the content of God's knowledge. Referring to traditional theologians who believe God possesses knowledge of all things—including knowledge of the choices humans will make even before they actually make them, Caneday states,
These Christian theologians have always observed that the Bible primarily portrays God with five relational metaphors: (1) king and subject; (2) judge and litigant; (3) husband and wife; (4) father and child; and finally (5) master and slave. Biblical imagery ascribes human likeness to God because the God who made his creatures in his own image, discloses himself to them in keeping with the God-like adornment he gave Adam and his descendants. This is the essence of anthropomorphism. In Christian theology books these five anthropomorphic portrayals of God's relationship with his worshipers dominate the discussion of God's relationship with his creation. God reveals himself to us in human terms. [A. B. Caneday, “The Implausible God of Open Theism:A Response to Gregory A. Boyd’s God of the Possible” (Long Version. Unpublished paper appearing in the “foreknowledge” section of the Baptist General Conference/Bethel website: www.bgc.bethel.edu), 21. This website has articles and other material—both for and against the open view of God.]
Thus, those who believe God possesses exhaustive foreknowledge will understand God's role in these passages in terms of anthropomorphism.
Response # 3: Geisler comments,
What God knew by cognition, he desired to show by demonstration. By passing the test, Abraham demonstrated what God always knew: namely, that he feared God. For example, a math teacher might say to her class, Let’s see if we can find the square root of 49,” and then, after demonstrating it, declare, “Now we know that the square root of 49 is 7,” even though she knew from the beginning what the answer was. [Norman L. Geisler, Creating God in the Image of Man? (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1997), 88.]
In the traditional view of God, the purpose of testing Abraham was to demonstrate his trust in God. Hebrews 11:17-19 tells us,
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.
The traditional view of God believes that God already knew this and used the test to demonstrate Abraham's faith, while the open view teaches that God did not know this and used the test to discover whether or not Abraham would obey Him.
f. God speaks in terms of what may or may not be.—Boyd states,
One of the most interesting examples of this is when God tries to convince Moses to be his representative to the elders of Israel who are in bondage to Pharaoh. The Lord initially tells Moses that the elders will listen to his voice (Exod. 3:18). Moses apparently doesn’t hold to the classical view of divine foreknowledge, however, for he immediately asks, “suppose they do not believe me or listen to me?” (Exod. 4:1).
God’s response to him suggests that God doesn’t hold to this view of foreknowledge either. He first demonstrates a miracle… . Moses remains unconvinced, so the Lord performs a second miracle and comments, “If they will not believe you or heed the first sign, they may believe the second sign” (4:8). How can the Lord say, “they may believe”? Isn’t the future behavior of the elders a matter of certainty for the Lord? Apparently not. Indeed, the Lord continues, “If they will not believe even these two signs or heed you, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground; and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground (4:9).
If the future is exhaustively settled, God would of course have known exactly how many miracles, if any, it would take to get the elders to believe Moses. In that case, the meaning of the words he chose (“may,” “if”) could not be sincere. [Boyd, 67].
Response # 1: That Moses would question God about the willingness of the elders of Israel to heed what he tells them doesn’t necessarily mean Moses thought God was ignorant of their response. It is possible, holding the classical view of exhaustive divine foreknowledge, to understand God’s promise in an ultimate sense, i.e., that ultimately the elders would heed his voice. At the same time, it is possible to understand the question of Moses in an immediate sense, “yes, ultimately they will heed my voice but what if they do not do so when I first approach them?”
Response # 2: Realizing that God is interacting with Moses and, given the possible scenario in my previous response, it is inappropriate to impute insincerity to God as the only possible alternative if He, indeed, possesses exhaustive foreknowledge.
g. Hastening the Lord’s return. Boyd refers to 2 Peter 3:12 where Peter admonishes
believers to be godly people, “looking for and hastening the coming of the Day of God.” Then he comments:
If taken at face value, the verse is teaching us that how people respond to the gospel and how Christians live affects the timing of the second coming. But how is this teaching compatible with the view that everything, including the timing of the second coming, is eternally fixed in God’s mind? What is the point of talking about God’s delay due to his patience or encouraging believers to speed up Christ’s return by how they live if in reality the exact time has been settled from all eternity? [Ibid, 71-72.]
Response # 1: The teaching of Matthew 24:36 is, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” This passage seems to teach that God the Father knows precisely—even to the day and the hour—when these eschatological events will take place.
Response # 2: 2 Peter 3 is a response to the scoffers who imply God either does not know when Christ is going to return or else has forgotten to send Him (v. 3). In his response, Peter states: [a] these scoffers have willfully forgotten that both creation and the flood were direct interventions of God (vv. 5-6). Furthermore, the same God who brought the world into existence and who brought a judgment by water to it has promised to judge the world by fire (v. 7). [b] God’s timetable and ours are not the same; we view God as being late, but He is right on schedule according to His timetable (vv. 8-9). Thus, the “hastening” of the Day of God in verse 12 is from our perspective, not God’s. This interpretation not only takes the passage “at face value,” but also in its context.
h. Jeremiah 18 and the flexible potter. Boyd comments:
The final aspect of the motif of future openness we need to examine is also the strongest. Numerous times in Scripture we find that God changes his mind in response to events that transpire in history. … Perhaps the best example of this is found in Jeremiah 18. Many in Israel had heard that the Lord was planning on punishing her for her wickedness and had wrongly assumed that this meant “It is of no use!” (Jer. 18:12). If God has prophesied against us, they reasoned, there is nothing that can be done about it. It seems that they were reading into God’s prophecy the assumption that the future was unalterable.
To correct this fatalistic thinking, the Lord directed Jeremiah to go to a potter’s house to watch a potter at work. “The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him” (v. 4). The Lord then instructed Jeremiah, “Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? … Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel” (v. 6).
The Lord then continues:
At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, than I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it (vv. 7-10).
The Lord then applies this teaching to Israel: “Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings” (v. 11). There are several points worth making regarding this remarkable passage.
First, many ancient and contemporary interpreters have used the potter/clay analogy to argue that God exercises unilateral control over us. They mistakenly read Paul to be using the analogy in this fashion (Rom. 9:21-23). … What is important for us to note is that in Jeremiah (the passage Paul is alluding to), the analogy is used to make the exact opposite point. As the potter was willing to revise his vessel once the first plan was “spoiled,” so God was willing to revise his initial plan when circumstances call for it. He is not a unilaterally controlling God; he is a graciously flexible God. The “clay” he works with is not lifeless but has a mind and will of its own, to which he responds appropriately.
Second, we must take very seriously the Lord’s word in Jeremiah 18 that he will “change [his] mind about the disaster that [he] intended to bring” on one nation (v. 8) and/or “change [his] mind about the good [he] had intended to do to” another nation, if these nations change (v. 10). If the future were exhaustively fixed, could the Lord genuinely intend to bring about something and then genuinely change his mind and not bring it about? How can someone sincerely intend to do something they are certain they will never do? And how can they truly change their mind if their mind is eternally made up?
[Third,] classical theologians usually argue that texts that attribute change to God describe how he appears to us; they do not depict God as he really is. It looks like God changed his mind, but he really didn’t.… I suggest that if this text isn’t enough to convince us that God’s mind is not eternally settled, then our philosophical presuppositions are controlling our exegesis to a degree that no text could ever teach us this. People who affirm the divine authority of Scripture do not want to be guilty of this charge.
Fourth, while classical theologians have always considered the notion that God changes his mind as denoting a weakness on God’s part, this passage and several others (Jonah 4:2; Joel 2:12-13) consider God’s willingness to change to be one of God’s attributes of greatness. …
Finally, we must reconcile Jeremiah 18 and all the other passages that speak of God “changing his mind” with Samuel’s statement to Saul that “the Glory of Israel will not recant or change his mind” (1 Sam. 15:29). A nearly identical statement was made by Balaam when he told Balak, “God is not a human being, that he should lie, or a mortal, that he should change his mind” (Num. 23:19). … A closer examination of both passages reveals that they do not contradict the teaching that God changes his mind and do not speak about God any more literally than the passages in which God does change his mind.
Regarding Samuel’s statement to Saul, it is important to recall that both before and after this verse we find Scripture explicitly teaching that God regretted making Saul king over Israel (1 Sam. 15:11, 35). He intended to bless him but ended up judging him instead (1 Sam. 13:13-14). …
It’s important to note that Samuel had prayed all night trying to change the Lord’s mind regarding Saul’s dethronement. (1 Sam. 15:11-12). This alone is enough to demonstrate that Samuel believed that God could, in principle, change his mind about things. It’s just that, after trying all night, he came to conclude that in this instance God wouldn’t change his mind. [Ibid, 75-80.]
Response # 1: Concerning the dethronement of Saul, we have already seen that regret doesn’t require ignorance. One may be aware of a particular event and still have regret when it happens. 1 Samuel 8 shows that Israel’s desire to have a king was a rejection of the Lord’s leadership (v. 7) yet this did not prevent the Lord from instructing Samuel to anoint Saul as king to lead Israel (1 Sam. 9:15-16). The traditional view of God can be harmonized with a multifaceted divine plan that includes knowledge of everything that will come to pass, including changes in God’s attitude and actions.
Furthermore, 1 Samuel 15:11-12 does not say Samuel tried to change God’s mind. Here is the text: “Now the word of the Lord came to Samuel, saying, ‘I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments.’ And it grieved Samuel, and he cried out to the Lord all night” (Vv. 10-11).
Response # 2: Concerning Jeremiah 18, we note that God makes clear to Israel and Judah that His threat to destroy them is conditional and would not be carried out if they repented: “Now therefore, speak to the men of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord: Behold, I am fashioning a disaster and devising a plan against you. Return now everyone from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good’” (v. 11). The point of the potter analogy is that both God and the potter have authority over the “material” with which they are working. In God’s case, the “clay” refers to living human beings, and He graciously condescends to make His judgment upon them conditional upon their refusal to repent. Nothing in Jeremiah 18 requires us to deny that God possesses exhaustive foreknowledge.
This is also true in Romans 9:14-24. We read, What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
Rather than denying God’s exhaustive foreknowledge, the ninth chapter of Romans defines God’s sovereignty in terms of His absolute control.
d. two issues in favor of the traditional view
1. Biblical Anthropomorphism
Boyd implies throughout his book that if one interprets God’s activity as an example of anthropomorphism, then he or she is not taking the biblical text at face value but is interpreting it in a nonliteral manner. If Boyd has interpreted correctly the various passages already examined in this paper, how are we to understand Psalm 14:2-3, which tell us, “The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; There is none who does good, no, not one”? Would not Boyd [and others who interpret Scripture similarly with respect to the open view of God] be required to conclude that God not only is unaware of our decisions before we make them; He is also unaware of those decisions after we make them—until He decides to look down from heaven to discover what our choices have been? Does this passage really teach that God does not know what humanity is doing until He looks down upon them, or is this an anthropomorphic way of stating God’s omniscience?
2. Divine Foreknowledge of Human Salvation
Boyd states his view in the following way:
In the same way that God predestined and foreknew the death of Jesus without predestining or foreknowing which individuals would condemn him, so God predestined and foreknew the church without predestining or foreknowing which specific individuals would belong to it. A careful examination of the relevant texts supports this interpretation.
For example, when Paul says that God “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world,” he immediately specifies that this predestination was for us “to be holy and blameless before him in love” (Eph. 1:4). Note, Paul does not say we that we were individually predestined to be “in Christ” (or not).…
Something similar must be said about Paul’s statement that “those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). Many interpret this verse to mean that God foreknew that certain individuals would believe and then predestined them to be conformed to the image of his Son. But we must notice that Paul doesn’t specify that God foreknew certain individuals would believe. He simply says, “those who [God] foreknew he also predestined. We must be careful not to read into the verse more than is there.
Now, if by “foreknowledge” Paul meant to refer to certain information about the future that God possessed, this passage would present a serious problem to the classical view of divine foreknowledge. For the verse contrasts “those whom God foreknew” with others God did not foreknow. But in the classical view of foreknowledge, of course, God foreknows with certainty everything about everyone throughout the whole of the future. There is nothing for God’s knowledge to contrast with.
There is no reason to think that Paul has information in mind when he speaks of God’s foreknowledge, however. In customary Semitic fashion, Paul seems to be using the word know to mean “intimately love.” This is clearly his meaning when, two chapters later, he refers to Israel as the people “whom [God] foreknew” (Rom. 11:2). …
So too, in Romans 8:29 Paul is saying that the church as a corporate whole was in God’s heart long before the church was birthed. But this doesn’t imply that he knew who would and would not be in this church ahead of time. He predestined that all who choose to receive Christ would grow to be in the image of his Son. But whether particular individuals receive Christ and thus acquire this predestined image depends on their free will. [Ibid, 46-48.]
Response # 1: Boyd is critical of those who define foreknowledge in terms of informational content [as we have seen previously], yet he himself includes this concept when he states, “He predestined that all who choose to receive Christ would grow to be in the image of his Son.” [Ibid.] One cannot avoid including information in a biblical understanding of foreknowledge, whether one defines it in terms of passive awareness [as non-Calvinists do] or active involvement in a plan [as Calvinists do]. Furthermore, Boyd is not correct when he says Romans 8:29 “contrasts ‘those whom God foreknew’ with others God did not foreknow.” [ Ibid.] Rather verses 29 and 30 describe the five things God includes in His purpose for “those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (v. 28). The text says nothing about those who are not foreknown, predestined, called, justified and glorified.
Response # 2: It is true that “Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her…that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” [Eph. 5:25, 27]. But it is equally true that God foreknew, predestined, called, justified and glorified individuals [cf. Rom. 8:29-30]. Justification refers to the change in God's records whereby He forgives the sins of believers and no longer credits them to their account but rather credits their account with a righteousness they did not earn (Romans 4:2-8). God does not justify groups! He justifies individuals who put their trust in Christ! Jack Cottrell, a non-Calvinist, comments:
A popular belief among non-Calvinists is that “God predestined the plan, not the man.” The Scriptures, however, show that it is always persons who are predestined and not just some abstract, impersonal plan. This is so obvious that it hardly seems necessary to mention it. In Rom. 8:29, 30 Paul is speaking of persons. The same persons who are predestined are also called, justified and glorified. In 2 Thess. 2:13 he says that “God has chosen you,” the Christian people of Thessalonica, “for salvation.” Eph. 1:4, 5, 11 speaks of God’s predestination in relation to his plan, but it is specifically stated that God predestined us (persons) to adoption as sons in accordance with his purpose and plan. [Jack W. Cottrell, “Conditional Election,” in Grace Unlimited, Clark H. Pinnock, editor (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, Inc1975), 57.]
Does God know everything—including the choices people will freely make? If so, He is in control of each circumstance we face. If He doesn't, then there are times when He is caught off guard, times when He is does not anticipate and ingeniously outmaneuver His opponents, times when He does become frustrated. Do we “know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28)? Do we really believe that God is in control of everything that happens? If so, now is the time for us to publicly affirm our belief in the traditional view of God, recognizing that this is the authentic teaching of God's Word.
The Bible teaches that God's knowledge and wisdom are exhaustless. Further, it connects this infinite knowledge and wisdom to His sovereignty. “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! ‘For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor?’ ‘Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him?’ For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36). It is precisely because His relationship to all things is that of source [of Him], creator [through Him] and possessor [for Him] that He has this infinite knowledge and wisdom, and this makes Him worthy of our praise [to Whom be glory forever].
The Middletown Bible Church
articles under Doctrinal Studies