Greg Boyd Explain’s His Open Theism

28 08 2006

Many of us who deeply care about sound teaching and biblical theology have been concerned about the teachings of “Open Theism” where certain Evangelical scholars like Clark Pinnock and others seem to be suggesting that God is not truly omniscient. I have heard that Greg Boyd is also an Open Theist, and this troubled me because I really like Greg and feel that a lot of his teaching is is a good counter balance to the idolatry and the unbridled nationalism of the Christian Right. So I was not too happy when I learned that he espoused Open Theism. So I decided to email him and ask him just where he was coming from. To my surprise, Greg took time out of his busy schedule to email me his thoughts. I have to say, after reading Greg’s unfiltered views on Open Theism, I now can see how thoroughly biblical his views are. But don’t listen to me or his critics, read him for yourself. The link below is the email in its entirety and it was posted with Greg’s knowledge and permission.

Greg’s Letter.doc

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31 responses

17 09 2006
Michael Kruse

Thanks for this letter. I disagree with Boyd on some things but his letter is a wonderful concise articulation of my perspective as well.

18 09 2006
marcdav

Thanks for dropping by Mike. Yeah, I kind of agree with Bob’s critique of Boyd on his blog, but on the whole, I think Boyd is a necessary counterbalance to our friends of the Christian Right.

18 09 2006
dlw

I think a lot of the heat over Open View Theism is due to church politics, where in the past distinctives of Calvinism/Arminianism held an importance above and beyond their missiological importance, meaning the extent they mattered for us being salt and light in this world.

I think a lot of it has to do with how we deal with anxiety about past and present sufferings/choices and a future we do not know. The way to deal with this is through Matthew 6, not extra-biblical theologies about God having an Exhaustive-Definite Foreknowledge and misinterpretations of the elect as used by the apostle Paul as referring to specific individuals rather than communities/groups of individuals.

dlw

18 09 2006
marcdav

That’s pretty insightful dlw, I think you need to expand on it a little bit more. It is probably worth a blog article or two.

11 11 2006
Montes

I haven’t read the letter yet, but I would like to add that I have found Greg very open to sharing his views as well. I have also emailed him in the past and he as proved very personable and willing to help people, who he has never even seen or heard of, through tough issues of faith.

20 02 2007
Lon

I had the same questions of him, and just finished reading the document. Thanks for posting!

20 02 2007
marcdav

Yeah, if you are a hardcore Calvinist, his comments will not satisfy you, but I don’t think that you can really see Greg as being unbiblical or a heretic after reading his letter.

23 11 2007
paul

OK Boyd’s explanation is clear ,,,,the God of possibilities is indeed biblical see
1Sam 10:12 ,, however God is still knowing of the eventual course of events and therefore knows all things in their finite path ,,,

My thoughts therefore are more in terms of ,,,what purpose can come of pretending an infinite set of choices when only one will take place? ,,,it seems that no matter how open one wishes to be it eventually ends up being quite closed.

23 11 2007
paul

sorry the reference is 1 Sam 23 :10-13

10Then said David, O LORD God of Israel, thy servant hath certainly heard that Saul seeketh to come to Keilah, to destroy the city for my sake.

11Will the men of Keilah deliver me up into his hand? will Saul come down, as thy servant hath heard? O LORD God of Israel, I beseech thee, tell thy servant. And the LORD said, He will come down.

12Then said David, Will the men of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul? And the LORD said, They will deliver thee up.

13Then David and his men, which were about six hundred, arose and departed out of Keilah, and went whithersoever they could go. And it was told Saul that David was escaped from Keilah; and he forbare to go forth.

9 01 2008
paul

More from me just to clear up further ,,, I read Greg Boyd’s letter and have a simple question ,, Does God know anything in its certainty ??? Does He know for certain what will happen,,, if He does then this closes the system ( from his standpoint) and all the possibilities are rendered as theoretical,, if on the other hand He does not,,, then He knows only possibilities and therefore omniscience takes on a different meaning .

23 04 2008
Sam Conner

I think that there may still be a fundamental problem with Pastor Boyd’s position. If God knows the future only as “possibility” until it actually happens, then that implies that God has to learn from the creation what actually happens in it. God’s knowledge of history (what has actually happened) seems, in this view, to be radically dependent on something outside Himself (that is, God’s knowledge of the world is dependent on the world). This seems a worrisome limitation on God and an excessive imputation of autonomy to the world.

A view that seems better to me is that God’s knowledge of the created world is rooted in His knowledge of His own will for what the creation is to be. This concept is encapsulated in the Reformed doctrine of God’s decree.

This disagreement is closely parallel to the disagreement between the Arminian and Calvinist understandings of soteriology.

27 10 2008
Lyle

Doesn’t the open theist point-of-view open up a can of worms on a lot of the central issues of Christianity?

Let’s assume that open theism is correct. Then I have a simple question: Did Christ die for my personal sins? Let me say a little more: According to open theism, when Christ was sufferring on the cross, God did not know if I would exist in the future. That leaves two possibilities: In the event that God knew that there was a possibility that I would exist, then Christ bore the punishment for me in the event that I would actually exist in the future. That also means that Christ bore the punishment for all the possible sins for all the possible people that would ever exist. Therefore Christ sufferred needlessly for the sins of a lot of people that never existed.

The second option was that Christ did not bear the punishment of our sins since he did not know who for sure would exist in the future and since he would not know what sins were actually committed. In that case, what was the meaning of the sacraficial death of Christ? Did Christ truly take on the wrath of God for actual sins or do open theists believe something else?

I would contend that open theism diminishes the sacraficial death of Christ on the cross which is no small problem.

10 10 2009
wesleyb

Lyle,

When you look at the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, do you see a God who limits His love in order to exert His power? Or, do you see a God who limits His power so that He might express His Love?

12 02 2010
Renee Emami

How does an infinite mind connect with a finite mind? As we read the bible we should know that we are not reading about someone like us. We are reading a direct link to the creator of the universe.
In each of the possibilities we find mentioned in the bible, the Lord knows where we will go with it. The bible teaches us his love for us even as we go astray, he is there and provides another way to know him. We see this in the New Testament when he stops teaching with direct statements but switches to parables so that men may understand. The women surrounding him already got it. In the Old Testament we see over and over again individuals making choices that are not what God would have. God does not walk away, but rather, finds another way to have his purpose completed. We come face to face with the obstinacy of the human character. We, having free will, don’t like to be told what to do, even when it is God telling us what to do.
The idea that God has a back up plan because he does not know what we will do is so beneath what the Bible tells us about who God is. The concept of possibilities is a result of our nature, not God’s. I once listened to a woman tell about a time in her life when she felt very alone and made poor decisions. She turned in a circle, and each time she stated what she did and how she felt about it. Then she told how when she found Jesus and looked back on what had happened, at each step, she was never alone, but rather, as she turned, there he was at her shoulder, she just needed to open her eyes to see him.
That is who we are. We do what we want, but God in his infinite wisdom, is there to make a way, open a door, give us another chance. We cannot limit God because we are limited.

16 03 2010
Seana Waters

I too have enjoyed Dr. Boyd’s writing, having read “The Myth of Christian Nation” he grasps well the issues of force vs. freedom. I almost didn’t comment on his open view of God, (“you all” seem very intellectual), I am a chaplain, graduated with an M.Div. last May, Andrews U. Theological Seminary. (Seventh-day Adventist). I was raised atheist, then became a Christian in my mid-teens, but the teaching of the eternal torment of the lost contributed greatly to my losing my faith. Anyway, in Seminary I had a very bright professor, Fernando Canale. I do not know what his perspective is on the Open View, but he says that the idea that God is “timeless” is a pagan idea, that God is actually temporal, but Eternal, He exists in time, that time is just an inherant part of life/existence, so God is historical. He lived from all eternity past, (which I cannot comprehend), and will live eternally into the future…Anyway, what Dr. Boyd is saying seems to make some intuitive sense to me, besides helping to explain Scripture that would seem strange otherwise. Let’s keep learning and living by His Spirit, and He will lead us! Blessings, Seana (“shayna”)

17 03 2010
wesleyb

Renee, you said. “The idea that God has a back up plan because he does not know what we will do is so beneath what the Bible tells us about who God is.” In God’s perfect plan, there are millions of contingencies. But none of them are a “back up” plan. Speaking in terms of “Back up plans” does not allow for God’s infinite wisdom. If the future is a settled reality and something “goes wrong” then yes we could easily and rightly characterize God’s response as a “back up Plan” Because the plan would have changed. But if the future is made up of possibilities, when one of those possibilities becomes a reality, God’s perfect plan which was in place should this choice be made, is employed. So it can’t rightly be called a “back up” plan. It’s the plan that God chose to employ should this or that choice be made. There isn’t a possibility that God has not perfectly planned for.

Blessings…

17 03 2010
wesleyb

Seana,

Thanks for your comment. Good advice.

10 04 2010
Tighten Your Vagina

The God who warmed me when we could see our breath inside our freezing apartment, where the gas was disconnected in the dead of another wind-whipped Chicago winter, and there was no food, little hope and no hot water.

27 04 2010
Wade Sikes

A crucial aspect of the open view, which so many critics either miss, or choose to ignore, is that those who espouse the open view affirm that God can pre-determine what he chooses to pre-determine, and leave open what he chooses to leave open. The risk inherent in creating beings with libertarian free will is just this, that such free will precludes an exhaustive foreknowledge of everything, since the decisions of such free agents have yet to be made. God may choose, however, to intervene (predestine) certain things to bring about His plan. The open view essentially takes Scripture to mean what it says. If a verse says that God predetermines something, then we accept that. If Scripture indicates that God regrets a decision, changes his mind as a result of Man’s actions, or is disappointed because we choose other than what he desires, we take it for what it says. The open view is firmly orthodox in its view of God’s nature and characteristics. In fact, Boyd has made the point that the debate is not really about God’s characteristics, but about the nature of the reality that God perfectly knows.

6 05 2010
wesleyb

Wade,

Consider the strength of making the “open” view about God. Firstly, sure, the open view does assert that the nature of reality “Time” is not what Calvin assumed. But if it is only about the nature of reality, the debate devolves into a discussion about man. Does man have free will? Is man capable of making a choice on his own? etc. But if it is about God, which I think it is, then the discussion is a turning of our focus upon Him (a much more worthwhile endeavor.

Is God free? Is He stuck in some Predetermined reality that even He cannot choose to change? If our focus is upon the eternal and essential attributes of God, we can compare ideas and concepts to His beauty and watch the ones that are false fall like idols erected to fill the void lost at the fall

A God who is alive is a God who is free. A God who is relational is a God who gives men a taste of His own freedom. A God who is righteous is a God who does not choose men for heaven and others for hell before they ever breath a breath. In the end… It’s all about God. Blessings on you Wade… Looking forward to your thoughts.

20 05 2010
Tatiana

I don’t know as much as you all seem to. But i do know one thing, that God is above our knowledge. There are things that you just are not gonna understand, and with those things we just ask for God’s direction and understanding.
As for this “open Theism” i can’t say that i fully agree. Although in life there are many possibilities, God knows that already! Simply because He is God. He knows what decisions we are gonna make wayyyyyy before we make them. Even if they are bad ones that make Him upset. Isn’t it great that we have such a gracious God!! He is so forgiving and loving, even when we make mistakes.
In closing, I believe that God Knows. Its as simple as that.
There is no limit to what our God can do. šŸ™‚
p.s. don’t be too harsh… I’m only 17 šŸ˜›

20 05 2010
wesleyb

Tatiana,

Sounds like you’ve got a great attitude. Indeed there are things we’re not going to know. And, indeed it is amazing that we serve a gracious God. Open Theism is not a hill I’m going to die on. So if for the moment your life depends on God knowing the future as only one certain and exhaustively settled reality… great! I have no desire to destroy the ground you’re standing on. But what if god made the future with possibilities in it? What if He knows that future as it is? If He did, it would say something about God and what He’s like. It would say that He’s not a micromanager. It would say that He’s not insecure. It would say that He’s comfortable with His own sovereignty.

The question is, “Is God free?” Is He stuck is some kind of predetermined plan that even He cannot change? Can He write a new song? Has He chosen before the foundations of the world… before a person has done good or bad (Rom 9:11)…who exactly would go to heaven and who would burn in eternal torment? These are questions that have themselves caused no small consternation. But I propose that open theism offers the most Biblical answers to these and other questions which leave Him not as a cruel despot, but rather a relational being who gave men a taste of the freedom that He himself possesses. THAT is an amazing God!

23 08 2010
M Layton

Dear Lyle

surely the the cross was about the quality of the sacrifice, not the quantity of suffering for the world’s sins.

Did God take a risk when He created man in His own image? Of course He did, and the price of that risk was the cross – there is no other God worthy of our worship.

20 10 2010
Tzong-Huei Li

When I try to open Greg’s Letter.doc, I can only see unrecognizable symbols. Could you please send it to me in a format that’s in plain English?

THANK YOU.

Tzong-Huei

14 02 2011
Ryan

Boyd’s chess analogy doesn’t coincide with his opening paragraphs.

At the beginning he says God knows “possibilities”. Let’s relate the beginning of his letter with the end.

In chess, 2 chess players, God and man, sit down at the board to play a game. Man is White. White, in chess, has the option to play Queen’s pawn, or Kings pawn. The beginning of his letter Boyd is saying this is a possibility, but not a certainty. Man can really play 1 of 2 moves, e4 or d4.

The end of the letter, he makes the following statement-

“any move you make he has been anticipating from the beginning of the game AS THOUGH YOU WERE PREDESTINED TO MAKE IT. God’s been considering THAT VERY MOVE from the beginning of the game and planning a perfect response to it — as though you HAD to make it. It’s just that God is so smart, you didn’t HAVE to move the way you did for God to perfectly anticipate it as though you DID have to make it.”

So, we will continue with our chess analogy-

2 chess players, God and man, sit down at the board to play a game. Man is white. White, in chess, has the option to play Queen’s pawn, or Kings pawn. Man can really play 1 of 2 moves, e4 or d4. Bug God is so smart, he already knows his response to the move is though you had already made it.

The queen’s gambit accepted is going to be played. Before white sits down to play, white is going to play d4, God knows that he is going to play d4, and God knows, in his infinite wisdom, he’s going to take a pawn, and accept the gambit.

This is a deterministic analogy, ironically, very black and white.

In a tournament, man write down the moves, man has a score sheet. Here’s God’s score sheet, God vs Man, God’s score sheet already has all the moves written out.

Now, as man is playing God, man doesn’t know God’s next move, man doesn’t know his own next move, as it is preceded on a pushed piece by the hand of God. Yet man, not knowing what is going to happen, is going to play the game, writing down the moves as they occur. We will make every move we want to make, we’ll play our own game. Choosing between chess openings such as e4, d4, Nf3, c4, etc. We will move the 1 particular piece we want to, and God wrote that move down on His scorecard, before the foundations of the world.

Open-theism is inconsistent with the Bible, thus being inconsistent with God, therefore inconsistent with logic and reasoning, and ultimately inconsistent with reality. It is inconsistent with what is.

“Whatever is, is.” -Parmenides

27 04 2011
JAMES FLETCHER

I would never want to harm fellowship with a blood bought brother in CHRIST. it is unproductive for unbelievers to see believers arguing about concepts outside of the basics of the faith and it brings no glory to THE FATHER. I would only say this,that I notice theology at times borders on dimnishing the attributes of GOD. personally I myself dare not do that. I love theology also but I refrain from putting GOD on trial for his abilities,attributes or decisions HE makes. The end of the book of JOB shows what GOD thinks of people scrutinizing him and questioning his will and decisions a little too vigorously. I love you in the LORD my dear brother.

16 06 2011
laura

@ James Fletcher – AMEIN!!!!!!!!!

13 09 2012
Ben Duarte

ā€œI must go to Jerusalem and suffer much from the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law. I will be put to death, but three days later I will be raised to life.ā€- Jesus
Jesus spoke of future decisions that people will make, and future events. Where did this ontology come from?..where did this knowledge come from?….thus, “open theism” is false.

19 01 2013
PASTOR DONALD R. HAHN

I WOULD HAVE A HARD TIME BELIEVING IN A GOD THAT SAID THAT IT HAS ALREADY BEEN DECIDED THAT SOME OF MY CHILDREN WERE GOING TO HELL. NO MATTER HOW YOU SLICE IT OR WHAT WORD TRICKERY YOU USE, IT IS STILL FATALISIM, THE DOCTRINE OF MODERN HUMANISUM. ON THE OTHER HAND I CAN BELIEVE IN A GOD WHO SAYS THE CHOICE IS TRUELY UP TO MY CHILDREN AND IF MY CHILDREN CHOOSE BADLY I CAN ACCEPT WHAT THE CONCEQUENCES WILL BE. THE ONLY THEOLOGY THAT COMES CLOSE TO SAYING THAT IS OPEN THEISM. BUT I DON’T MAKE ENEMIES OF CALVINISTS OR ARMENEUNS FOR WE ARE ALL BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN CHRIST. WE ARE ALL SAVED BY THE ATTONING BLOOD OF CHRIST AND WE SHOULD NEVER FORGET THAT. WE ALL HOLD BELIEFES THAT ARE NOT TRUE, ONLY THE MOST ARROGANT WOULD DENY THAT, BUT I THANK GOD THAT THE BLOOD OF JESUS IS STRONGER THAN ANY OF US TRUELY KNOW. NONE OF THE MENTIONED VIEWS HAVE DENIED THE VERGINE BIRTH, THE DIVINITY OF CHRIST, THE TRINITY, THE DEATH BURIAL AND RESERECTION OF CHRIST AND THE ATTONEMENT. ANY PASTOR OR TEACHER YOU SEE HAS SOMEONE WHO SAYS THEY ARE A HERATIC. I PERSONALY LEARN THINGS FROM R.C.SPROLE, A CALVINIST AND YOU CAN FIND SITES THAT CLAIM THAT THIS GREAT BROTHER AND GOOD TEACHER IS A HERATIC. I DON’T AGREE WITH EVERYTHING HE SAYS AND SOMETIMES HE MAKES ME ANGREE BUT I LEARN FROM HIM. I LEARN FROM ARMENIUNS, BAPTISTS, PENICOLSTLOS AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN. Iā€™M LOOKING FOR BIBLICAL TRUTH WHEREVER I FIND IT. THE FELLOWHIP I PASTOR HAS PEOPLE FROM ALL THESE GROUPS AND WE SHARE OUR BELIEFES AND STILL RESPECT EACH OTHER. WE WILL NEVER IN THIS LIFE AGREE COMPLETELY WHEN IT COMES TO THE MINORS BUT OUR FELLOWSHIP PROVES THAT WE CAN ALL GET ALONG. WHY DO WE CONTINUE TO TRY TO SEPARATE AND DESTROY EACH OTHER OVER THINGS THAT WE SHOULD BE OPEN TO DEBATE AMOUNGST OURSELVES? UNITE UNDER THE BANNER OF THE MAJORS. BE AT PEACE WITHIN THE STRUGGLE BROTHERS AND SISTERS AND REJECT THOSE WHO WOULD TRY TO DIVIDE US ON THE MINORS. THE BIBLE SAYS THE ONES WE SHOULD FEAR ARE THOSE WHO CAUSE DIVISION. I DIDN’T SPELL CHECK THIS SO FORGIVE ANY MISTAKES. IN CHRISTS LOVE PASTOR D.R. HAHN

10 07 2015
Sharon

I imagine best visually and I look at theology through geologic time, charted into zones of time — and this is earthly time — not God’s time. The history of religion is a very short block on this long chart. The history of Christian faith is an even shorter span — as was Christ’s short life. The writing of the Bible was a short span on this long chart. In these limited times on this Earth Christ holds a place of great significance as a Savior of humankind. We read The Torah, the Bible and dedicate ourselves to deciphering His Word.

If possibility exists in God, isn’t it possible that Christ is part of a vast puzzle containing God’s will still to be revealed? God is the vastness of everything we don’t know, Christ is a key to doors of the Spirit of God. Which beings will be sitting at the hand of God when we cross over? Will they be strictly Christian? Paul fought for the inclusion if the Gentiles. Will God’s possibility include other faiths which include God?

28 03 2016
Dawn Wessel

I am convinced the copious use of repetition in the Bible is an interpretation cipher.

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