InterVarsity Press, 2006.
One of the most controversial doctrines of free will theism or openness theology is the claim that God does not know the future. The motivations for this may be good: to protect God from charges of being the author of evil; to preserve genuine human freedom, and the like. But many have asked whether too high of a price is paid to make these concessions.
That is, in the attempt to defend God, it seems that too much of Scripture is either distorted or abandoned altogether, in order to make openness theism work. Thus defenders of the traditional understanding of God’s knowledge have been less than happy with the openness stance.
For those unaware of the basics, let me fill in the picture somewhat. It has been a long-standing problem as to how one can reconcile belief in God’s foreknowledge, and belief in genuine moral choices made by his creatures. That is, if God foreknows everything that will happen, down to the smallest detail, does that not mean that all things must happen? And if everything is thus predetermined to happen, where is the free will involved? Does it not disappear?
This is a philosophical/theological problem that has existed for millennia, and various solutions have been proposed. While Roy very briefly canvasses those options, he is mainly interested in the biblical data here. Thus the first half of the book examines Old Testament and New Testament passages which have a bearing on the question of God’s foreknowledge.
If one simply considers the numerous predictive prophecy passages alone, as found in the Old Testament, one would have to strongly question how divine foreknowledge can be denied. These and other passages are focused on in considerable detail.
But it is the second half of the book where Roy specifically wrestles with passages produced by the free will theists. In this section he deals with the many objections and contentions made by those in the openness camp.
Thus passages where God is said to repent, or change his mind, are given careful consideration. Instead of indicating a lack of divine foreknowledge, Roy suggests they instead are metaphorical in nature, and must be evaluated in the light of other passages, such as Numbers 23:19 (“God is not a man that he should repent”). There are both similarities and differences that exist between divine and human repentance.
Testing passages such as Genesis 22 which describe Abraham’s offering of Isaac (“Now I know that you fear God,” v. 12) are also examined in detail. This passage does not explicitly teach divine ignorance, and what it does discuss is the present state of Abraham’s heart, not a future condition. So it really has nothing to do with divine foreknowledge.
After discussing some other issues (e.g., does classical theism depend too much on Greek philosophy?), Roy closes with five practical implications of the doctrine of divine foreknowledge. These are: worship, prayer, divine guidance, evil, and hope. Consider just one, the perennial problem of evil and suffering. Does openness thinking really help much here?
Recall what openness theologians believe. God fully knows every aspect about the past and present, but not the future. So consider some great evil, such as the Holocaust. God did not foreknow the Holocaust, but in openness thought, he knew everything that was going on in the minds of the Nazis say in 1936. He knew of their plans for the Jews, the concentration camps, world domination, and so on. He fully knew back then what purposes, plans and motives were presently in the Nazi minds. Yet for some reason he did not choose to intervene. He could have but he did not. (Free will theists say God does at times override human beings and their choices, but only very rarely.)
Moreover, since God does not have any explicit purpose for suffering, according to openness thinking, then this was not only allowed by God but totally pointless as well. Some free will theists, such as Pinnock, even argue that God cannot ensure that any good will come out of evil, contrary to Romans 8:28.
Of course classical theists have plenty of problems with the Holocaust as well. But at least in their framework not all evil and suffering is seen as pointless, and God may well have redemptive purposes for such suffering. The Holocaust is still a mystery and a great horror, but the openness case does not seem to really solve any problems here. Both camps seem to have great difficulty with what appears to be gratuitous evil. But classical theists at least contend that God is able to use suffering for good ends, something which free will theists tend to deny.
So which view is more comforting? One in which God is not fully in control, does not know what the future entails, does not like evil, but seldom will intervene to prevent it? Or one in which God is in control, does know the future, does hate evil, but allows it to occur in order to work out his plans and purposes, hidden as they may be to us?
Neither system provides fully satisfactory answers to the problem of evil, but for all its claims to really be a theodicy, free will theism does not seem to offer much better help or comfort on many crucial issues of practical importance.
In sum, this is a good overview and summary of the biblical evidence for divine foreknowledge, and a good critique of the biblical arguments made by the openness theists. Of course not all will be convinced, and many of the passages in question remain open to various understandings and interpretations.
No matter how noble the motives of the free will theists, ultimately their theological system, like any other, must be carefully assessed in the light of Scripture. Theology should flow from the biblical text, not the other way around, which seems to be the case with openness theism.