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The Bible Proves Open Theology?

I’ve been working with my graduate theological students lately on issues pertaining to open theism. A few biblical passages have played key roles in the discussion.

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Nov

15

The Bible Proves Open Theology?

I’ve been working with my graduate theological students lately on issues pertaining to open theism. A few biblical passages have played key roles in the discussion.

I’m of the opinion that the majority of the Bible supports open theology’s notions about a loving God in relationship with the world. I think the Bible generally supports the notion that creatures have genuine freedom, which God gives them.

I also think the Bible supports, overall, the view that God does not know all of the details of the future until those details are worked out in actual experience. I believe God knows all of the possibilities for the future. But I don’t think God knows with certainty which possibilities will be actual until the time comes.

Let me be quick to admit, however, that a few passages in the Bible do not easily fit open theology. They don’t fit, at least, in the way they are typically interpreted. In some, the English words translators use lead away from an openness perspective, although the original Hebrew or Greek words may not do so.

I thought I’d post the biblical passages we’ve been working through together. In my view, they support open and relational theologies well.

God Regrets                                                                     

In the story of Noah, we find that God observes something God apparently did not expect. In fact, God has regrets. This suggests that God doesn’t know all of the future with certainty.

“The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” – Genesis 6:5-6

God Learns

When God sends Abraham to kill his son, God isn’t sure what Abraham will do. Will he be obedient? After seeing Abraham ready to go through with the sacrifice, God learns something about Abraham God did not know previously.

“Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am."  He said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." Genesis 22:10-2

God Changes Plans

God says Hezekiah will die. This apparently reflects God’s plans. But Hezekiah pleads for continued life. So God changes plans, based on Hezekiah’s response. This suggests the future is not settled, complete, or done, and God doesn’t know with certainty all things that will occur in the future.

“In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, "Thus says the LORD: Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover." Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall, and prayed to the LORD: "Remember now, O LORD, I implore you, how I have walked before you in faithfulness with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight." And Hezekiah wept bitterly. Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah: "Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the LORD, the God of your ancestor David: I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life.” Isaiah 38: 1-5

God Changes His Mind

Many of us know the story of Jonah and the big fish. But fewer know that God’s plans changed because of Nineveh’s eventual repentance. God tells Jonah that the city will fall. But because Nineveh repented, God changed his mind. God’s statement about Nineveh falling must have been conditional and not express something certain about the future.

“The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying, "Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you." So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days' walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's walk. And he cried out, "Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: "By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish." When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.” Jonah 3:1-10

Proof?

Do these passages (and many others like them) prove that open and relational theologies are the only way we rightly interpret the Bible? Do they prove that open and relational theologies offer the correct view of God and God’s relation to creation and the future?

No.

But they offer compelling reasons for Christians who think open and relational theologies do a better job than other theological frameworks. They are strong evidence for the biblical basis for open theism. And biblical passages such as these invite us all into the discussion of how we might best think about, worship, imitate, and love the God described in the Bible.

Posted in 2012 under Open and Relational Theology

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Dennis Carter

11.15.2012
4:06pm

I’ve wondered about every one of the passages you quote here with respect to omniscience. However, discounting omniscience isn’t clean-cut either. If God regrets, learns, changes plans, and changes his mind… how do we reconcile this with prophecy, where He he can still predict things that are even further into the future and very specific (e.g. all the prophesies, those that have already been fulfilled, and those that haven’t yet)?

 

Mike Lady

11.15.2012
8:44pm

It seems that you are being generous to your view of open theism when you say that only a few passages in the bible do not easily fit open theology, and that even these are an improper translation.
  I would argue that the bible consistently and emphatically affirms and teaches that God is in actuality omniscient.  The overall tenor of scripture does not confirm an open view of God’s knowledge.
  One of my favorite teachers I had the priviledge to sit under was Dr. J. Rodman Williams.  In his systematic theology course he would have us read authors that were on different sides of a debate.  This allowed us to see the differences for ourselves.  It was refreshing and enlightening.  That being said I hope that you are sending your students to Piper as well as Boyd.
  For those who want to go deeper into the debate check out John Piper’s “answering Greg Boyd’s openness of God’s texts”.  He addresses the text in this blog and will give an alternate view.

 

dirk

11.16.2012
9:26am

the particularities of “open-ness” aside this broader question of whether or not a book can have an active, even author-itative, role in the ways that people use it for their own ends/interests is a vital one, what sort of agency, if any, do texts have and how do we know? Has the Bible become a kind of 4th ‘person’ in applied theology of Christians?

 

Marie

11.18.2012
8:48am

As nothing is impossible to God, (except lying), could it be that He has chosen to allow us all to make our own choices as to whether or not we obey Him? It would then follow that He chose not to know some things…although He could know if He wanted to.

I believe that God leads us and makes known to us His wishes, but does not force us to obey, or even to take His advice as to what is best for us. This would mean that everyone on Earth who worships and obeys Him has chosen to do so and are not going through life as empty-headed robots doing only what they’ve been pre-programmed to do.

 

David

11.20.2012
5:48pm

I was reading Jeremiah 32:35 today and it seems like it might fall into an “Open” category as well.  God shows that He was shocked and it never entered His mind that the Israelites would offer child sacrifices to Molech.  I would like to know, though, which verses are tough to fit into Open theology?

 

John W. Dally

11.23.2012
4:28pm

Hey, you stole my observations in the work I am doing in What Determines Our Time of Death.grin Open theology is the best approach to that issue or God becomes culpable for all deaths including abortion and mass killers. Open Theology is the strongest argument for a relational dynamic between God and humanity.

 

Kyle

11.25.2012
12:08pm

I wonder if you could add this one - God obeys a man?

In the curious incident described in Joshua 10 where the sun stands still so that Israel can avenge itself on the Amorites, Joshua ‘tells’ God to stop the sun from going down.

The Good News translation says there has never been a day like that, before or since - when the Lord obeyed a human being. The NIV reads ‘the LORD listened to a man’, Young’s Literal translation says: ‘Jehova’s hearkening to the voice of a man…’

Maybe the language scholars can explain what the original Hebrew meant here. This particular text does not indicate God did not know per se. However, to me it is a far more problematic text than any of the scriptures referenced above.

Maybe it’s a case of the language translation(s) not being adequate to properly express the event. Or perhaps it’s a story, not a history.

 

Greg

12.19.2012
12:51pm

Dear Thomas: I think you should compare words with words in the Bible and verses with verses; you appear to insert too much assumptions into your Hermeunetic.  “God Regrets” - The Bible does not say God did not know this would happen but rather that “it grieved Him to His Heart”.  “In time”, God was grieved at His Heart however “outside of time”, which is where God lives, He certainly had to know this would all take place; God knows “the end from the beginning” Isaiah 46:10 Jesus existed “in time” and now is in Heaven.  “God Learns” - God said to Abraham…“now I know (Hebrew word Yada - 03045) you would not withold your son”.  When Adam went into Eve and knew (Hebrew word Yada - 03045) her she had a baby.  After God had this sweet affirming experience (“in time”) with Abraham where Abraham was even willing to offer his son, a son (Jesus Christ) was born hundreds of years later.  This again happened with God “in time” however the Bible never shows God did not know this would occur “outside of time” and therefore clearly God did not learn something He didn’t already know; He knew as in He was not surprised but He also “Experienced” this (Know is the word the translators chose - same Hebrew word Yada in both verses) “in time”.  “God Changes Plans” - You have gone too far; God can know what will occur and still let it play itself out.  Nothing in the text says God didn’t know this would all play out this way-you inserted that into your thinking with no Biblical basis.  “God Changes His Mind” - The Bible is clear @ Jeremiah 18:7-10 (“If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.”) that God will change His plans; Jonah 3 never says God did not know it would all work out this way-Jonah 3:9-10 says “Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them”.  God Bless brother!!

 

Jason

12.21.2012
8:36am

I think the most difficult passages are Peter’s denial and those dealing with Judas.

 

Greg Allison

12.21.2012
7:50pm

Jason…how so?  Please tell me the specific passages.

 

Larry

12.21.2012
9:51pm

I am just now beginning to consider open theology and so far I find it fascinating and refreshing. I am friends with Tom Belt who has to great essay studies on the subject.  His essay to the Assembly of God leadership is a great introduction to the topic.

For me it s very possible and likely that the Scriptures do not present a single coherent theology on any topic.  If you accept the higher criticisms then you easily conclude this.  However, given the Bible’s consistent emphasis on prayer, to me, open theology gives the most credence to that practice and to the scriptures about prayer.

Tom Belt’s other essay—his Masters Thesis—is on open theology and intercessory prayer.  You can google him and find them.

 

lige jeter

01.15.2013
2:13pm

Dr. Oord I see God a little different than what you pointed out concerning what God knows or does not know about the future.  For me to believe that God has limitations is dangerous. In Genesis [2:2] “God finished His work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made.”  God never gets tired or needs rest. In this passage Moses is ascribing human actions to God called anthropomorphism meaning to make comprehensible to the finite as it relates to God and man. In doing this God endowed the Sabbath with a blessing. This in no way diminishes who God is, or what He knows, or what He allows, or disallows in His infinite wisdom involving mankind.

God Regrets: “In the story of Noah, we find that God observes something God apparently did not expect. In fact, God has regrets. This suggests that God doesn’t know all of the future with certainty.”  In contrast to that statement I believe the feelings of human beings are again being ascribed to God by Moses. Their wickedness grieving Him is an indication of His Divine love rather than suggest God has wrong motives or regrets. Though God glories in the beauty of His creation His grief is great when soiled by human wickedness. “I will blot out man” is the price paid in the economy of the universe; men, nations, or generations that thwart God’s purpose have no permanent title to life as seen in their destruction.

God Learns: According to Jewish scholars, this was Abraham’s tenth and greatest trial.  The original Hebrew teaching is a test is never employed for the purpose of harm, but to ascertain “the power of resistance” against God on the part of the one being tested.  Although Abraham was unaware at first, the term “and offer him there” was by no means an intention on God’s part of accepting a human sacrifice.  According to Jewish teachings, in His command to Abraham, God did not use the word which signifies the slaying of the sacrificial victim.  God detested human sacrifice with an infinite abhorrence. “Now I know” is not proof that God did not know but confirmation to Abraham that his moral surrender has been complete. A test like this could only be carried out by a knowing loving God.

God Changes Plans/ God Changes His Mind: Allow me to respond: Hezekiah died as told he would even though his life was extended for a short period of time. Because of God’s mercy and grace shown to Hezekiah did not alter the final outcome death. Despite Nineveh’s repentance and their extended time upon earth Nineveh went back into sin and was destroyed some 250 years later.

 

Wesley

01.17.2013
7:20pm

The Bible is replete with anthropomorphism.  God’s arm is not short that it cannot save.  Does God really have an arm?  Most ascribe Him to be a Spirit and speaking of Him having an arm is ascribing to Him a human quality i.e. anthropomorphism.  But who get’s to say what is and what isn’t an anthropomorphism?  That’s where it gets tricky. 

For many, open and relational theologies provide a framework for taking the scriptures seriously.  How do we take seriously the passages that paint God as changing His mind?  changing the plan?  or,  and seeing God in relationship with humans with whom He has granted freedom?  For me, throwing all these into a category of anthropomorphism really misses the treasure that comes from the tension.

For me, and relational theists like me, the question is not whether or not God knows the future.  Of course, whatever the future is, God knows it perfectly.  The question is what is the nature of the future God perfectly knows?  Does it have possibilities in it?  I say it does.  If it does, God knows all those possibilities perfectly as they are…possibilities.  If I’m wrong and the future is settled, then God knows only one certain future with no possibilities.  Where’s the relational dynamic there?  What kind of a relationship can you have without possibilities?  without freedom to choose something other-than?  Anyway, not a hill I want to die on.  Blessings…

 

John

01.27.2013
5:05pm

“The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” – Genesis 6:5-6
Satan caused mankind to sin and certainly a holy God was grieved that the sin was causing him to regret making mankind as he made us to worship him.
In His love He started over again with eight that were saved in the flood..

“In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the LORD: Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.” Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall, and prayed to the LORD: “Remember now, O LORD, I implore you, how I have walked before you in faithfulness with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah: “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the LORD, the God of your ancestor David: I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life.” Isaiah 38: 1-5

God knew that if Hezekiah did not put his life to right he would certainly die but Hezekiah did put his life right so God granted him another 15 years on his life.
Hezekiah`s life was changed. He told others.
God`s plan for salvation.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God   Praise God he is in charge of this world not man and had a plan for repentance. For God so loved the world that he given His one and only begotten son for all mankind. He will not change his mind on your sin unless you repent of that sin and let him put it in the sea of forgiveness. He will put up a sign no fishing in this sea for the sins.
Remember God has control of everything.

“The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.” When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.” Jonah 3:1-10
Proof?

The clue is in the first line.
Jonah was a prophet he was sent to proclaim the word of God and the Ninevites had a free choice to obey God with repentance or to continue in sin. God never changed his mind at that time to destroy them. Yes they sinned later and were destroyed.

 

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Thomas Jay Oord is a professor, author, and theologian from the Northwest. Read more