Controversy swirls around Open theism. Whenever someone brands a theologian a “heretic,” that’s bound to turn some heads, so before reading Gregory Boyd’s God of the Possible: Does God Ever Change His Mind? (Baker Books, 2000), I was prepared for the worst. When done with the book, I was pleasantly surprised. Boyd makes arguments that – though he’s a Baptist – sit comfortably with Wesleyan-Arminians.
The bottom-line question for Boyd is this:
Is the future already exhaustively settled?
Some think of the future like a DVD. I can skip ahead using the “scene selection” feature on my remote control. Does God have that kind of a feature, where he can fast-forward and see exactly what will happen? Is every detail of the future already set-in-stone, in the same way that every scene of my favorite movie is already digitally engraved on the DVD?
To this question, Greg Boyd would reply “no.” Addressing multiple biblical passages where God changes his mind – including the story of Ninevah’s repentance, averting divine judgment – Boyd concludes that God determines part of the future, and He lets us determine part. God is not the God of Plato, unchangeable, but the God of Old and New Testaments who lovingly interacts with His creation. As Boyd observes (p. 111): “God is an eternal triune dance of love who eternally displays structure and freedom.”
To take up the movie analogy, God may have designed the “set” on which we act out our part. He may have chosen the lighting and the costumes, but in this movie, the plot line is up to us, and we can act it out in any number of ways. We’re filming the DVD as we go, so you can’t fast-forward to a scene that hasn’t yet been recorded. Even God cannot know for sure how our movie ends because we’re still acting it out ourselves. In short, what does not yet exist cannot yet be known.
For John and Charles Wesley, the heart of theology was salvation, so it’s natural for Wesleyans to wonder what practical effect Open theology has in that area. Boyd (p. 100) asks:
If God eternally foreknew that certain individuals would end up damning themselves, and if, as the Bible says, God takes no delight in the destruction of the wicked but wants everyone to be saved (Ezek. 18:23, 1 Tim. 2:3-4, 2 Peter 3:9), why would he go ahead and create such individuals?
Gregory Body answers that – like a chess-master – God perfectly knows all future possibilities. However, He does not know whether we ultimately will follow Christ. Through the Holy Spirit, He does everything possible to draw us to faith, but in the end, Boyd would agree with the last line of William Ernest Henley’s poem “Invictus”: –
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.
Christian experience affirms our instinctive sense that the future is at least partly open. In John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, demons try to distract Christian right up to the moment that he crosses over into heaven. Why would Satan bother, if he thought that the future was cast in stone? On the other hand, if God knew beforehand that I was doomed, why would he continue to chase me with what the old hymn writer called a “love that will not let me go”? Persistence on the part of heaven and hell implies an open future, part of a story yet unwritten.
Gregory Boyd does a thorough job of answering objections to Open theism. God of the Possible largely avoids philosophical jargon. For those interested in knowing more about the controversy, it’s a good place to start.