Open Theism – Epilogue

As mentioned before, OT proponents argue that at times God does intervene unilaterally in history to bring about certain purposes. In and of itself, that defeats their whole position.

If it is granted that God does intervene unilaterally at times, then it cannot be held that he cannot in any sense violate human freedom while intervening. It would be impossible for God to ever intervene in history without limiting (and thus controlling in a sense) the possibilities for human choice and action.

By OT’s logic, if God intervened so Christ would be born in Bethlehem, then Joseph and Mary were not free to decide to stay in Jerusalem and not register. If God presumably caused Caesar Augustus to decree a census, so the events would lead the holy family to Bethlehem, then Caesar Augustus was not free to refrain from issuing a decree.

This of course, has to be taken in a context of properly defining freedom – since neither Joseph, Mary, or Caesar (in the examples given above) were being forced or coerced in their choices. Still, their choices were being freely made within God’s appointed and determined ends, according to previous revelation. And that invalidates OT’s requirements.

This in itself would not render all theses of free will theism impossible – if it is acknowledged that at times God does override human free will. But that’s not the OT thesis.

Basinger asserts that it is not that God cannot influence decisions, but “what is denied, rather, is that God can grant an individual freedom of choice and yet ensure that this person will make the decisions God would have her make”[i]. However,  OT proponents do assert that God at times ensures things occur as he would have them. In fact, Basinger seems to contradict himself when he uses the concept of God’s ensuring a state of affairs, to make the distinction between process theism, determinism and free will theism:

This taxonomy of perspectives … can be distinguished as follows: those who believe that God can never unilaterally ensure that what occurs is that which he could have occur (process theists), those who believe that God always does so (theological determinists) and those who believe that God chooses at times to give up control (freewill theists) [ii] (emphasis mine).

Basinger acknowledges that free will theists at times disagree on certain details of the general proposition, and so he defines what he calls “basic free will theism” (BFWT), which is necessary but not sufficient for each proponent.

He states,

To be even more specific, to affirm basic freewill theism (BFWT), as I will be using this phrase, is to hold that since God cannot control voluntary human choice, the fact that he has granted humanity significant, pervasive freedom of choice means that he has voluntarily given up total control over much of what occurs in the earthly realm. [iii]

It is significant that Basinger uses the explicit word cannot in the above sentence, and links such thought with what all OT proponents agree. This evidences the internal incoherence of OT.

God does intervene, and that necessarily entails the impossibility of the counterfactuals for each event he unilaterally enforces, in which case all the other parties involved are not free to “do otherwise” and are, in fact, controlled in their human choice.

Back to Christianity

So far we have seen that there are numerous problems with the OT. It makes God unable to make infallible predictions when he is not the one who is bringing about what is being predicted. Since he could never himself bring about evil, he could never predict infallibly a free agent’s choice of moral evil.

Another problem relates to the coherence of OT’s view on sovereignty and freedom. If God at times intervenes and brings about his purposes, then someone, somewhere, is not retaining complete free will. The smallest interference in the world can have potentially immense consequential ramifications as to cause the entire course of events in the world to be deeply altered.

In the history of classical Christian thought there are, of course, many different philosophical and theological approaches on how to understand the realities of divine providence and human freedom and responsibility. Ultimately, what the Church has affirmed is that they are not polarities, but unequal partners (for human finiteness cannot be an equal partner with the divine essence and persons who transcend being itself) in a unity not unlike that of the hypostatic union, or of the divine and aspects of Scripture, for example.

Separate them, polarize them, and affirm one as trumping the other, and there is serious error with serious concrete implications for life and praxis.

If God knows the choices we will make, does that mean we are not free to make other choices? No. It means that what God knows we will do, we will do, but not that we must do because he forces us.

God knows that Jones is going to choose to mow his lawn on Saturday, and that means that he will choose to do so; but he could have chosen otherwise (and that is not even addressing the issues related to the distinction between volition and ability). In which case God would have known before creation that Jones would choose otherwise.

What About Evil?

God also allows for the  presence of evil, which is in one sense against God’s moral will, and in another sense according to God’s providence which “works all things for the good of those who love him.” Even though there are numerous passages in Scripture and Tradition that affirm so, the classical passage just quoted was written by St. Paul precisely in the context of human suffering and struggle against evil. Paul did not choose, like Boyd, to comfort his parishioners by telling them that God was just as surprised and hurt as they were by the trials that had overcome them.

OT is not only theologically and philosophically untenable, but in a practical level it takes away the very comfort afforded by God to his people – viz., the assurance that God is neither indifferent to evil and suffering, nor ultimately powerless in the face of their realities, but one who orchestrates history in which good is brought out of evil even when that seems impossible or unthinkable.

The resurrection is the paradigm of his restoration and renewal of creation. The evil which brought it about was neither determined by God’s action or foreknowledge, nor surprising or more powerful than God’s providence. Rather, in the mystery of the union between redemptive history, human responsibility, and divine providence, God works life out of death, good out of evil, redemption after destruction.

Click here for Part 1

Click here for Part 2

Click here for Part 3

(These four posts on Open Theism are a revised and condensed version of an article I wrote 11 years ago. Therefore, it is Copyright © 2001-2012, Marcelo P. Souza,  all rights reserved; and it might, by God’s providence and my choice, disappear from here at anytime –  should I, by sheer random libertarian free will, decide to submit it for publication. God willing. Or not.)


[i] Basinger p. 136, note 6

[ii] Basinger p. 12; 33

[iii] Basinger p. 13

[iv] Craig, p. 79

[v] Craig p. 129

[vi] Craig p. 147

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2 comments on “Open Theism – Epilogue

  1. David Lindblom says:

    The great irony in this debate is that the two groups most opposed to each others views, the O.T. folks and the Calvinists, actually maintain the same misconception of perfect foreknowledge they just take off in different directions from there. The error I’m speaking of is the same one you bring up and that is that perfect foreknowledge of an event necessitates that that event take place…there is no choice in the matter. Calvinists say, “Yup, that’s right no free will” and run w/ it. Whereas the O.T. folks, who also see no free will in perfect foreknowledge, run off in the direction of saying that God does not have perfect foreknowledge in order to maintain free will. Seems like if they could just get a proper understanding of foreknowledge then this issue would blow away! 😉

  2. […] ← Open Theism Part 2 Open Theism – Epilogue → […]

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