Friday, January 25, 2013


Well, that’s quite a title, isn’t it?  And the last bit will be completely lost on my non-Star Trek readers (and likely confusing at this point for even my Trek friends).  -  So, what is this all about?

This is about a few reflections that I was making as I was lying in bed, getting ready to go to sleep, a couple of nights ago.  That is to say, this isn’t really a “well researched” article.  That, of course, makes it, perhaps, a bad idea to publish this on the blog.  However, it does give others the opportunity to educate me concerning my very limited understanding of open theology. 

Dr. Thomas J. Oord
And, yes, I admit a very limited understanding of open theology.  I have done next to no real reading about open theology.  Thus, I would be happy for those who are proponents of open theology (e.g., Tom Oord ) to correct me.  (Well, kinda’ happy.  I would hate for them to completely make this article sound stupid!)

That part of open theology that I am questioning in this article is the idea that God does not know the future.  This idea is an attempt to explain true human freedom.  Traditional Arminianism, at this point, says that God does fore-know, but God does not fore-determine the future.  That is to say, traditional Arminianism wants to safeguard human freedom, on the one hand, and God’s omniscience, on the other hand.

Jacob Arminius
Open theology would be seen as a subset of Arminianism.  That is to say, it cannot fit under a Calvinistic perspective which says that God not only knows, but also pre-destines all that will ever happen.  Arminianism says that God does not pre-destine all that will ever happen.  Traditional Arminianism, however, says that God does know all that will ever happen.  Open theology is a subset of Arminianism that differs from traditional Arminianism by saying that God neither pre-destines, nor knows what will happen.  -  As I understand it, at least some open theologians would say that God may know all of the possibilities for the future, and perhaps even the probabilities.  Nevertheless, God cannot know, with certainty, the future, for the future cannot be known.

That is the idea that I want to challenge.

If I understand open theology correctly (and that is a big “if”), then it seems to me that open theology makes God subject to the time-space continuum (at least the time aspect, and as Science indicates, time and space are connected).  -  This is different from the traditional Arminian (and Calvinist?) idea that God is situated outside of time; above time.  -  If God does not know the future (because it cannot be known, because it has not happened yet, and because we are all truly free), then God is not “above” time, but rather “within time;” limited by time.

(The argument that I am about to make is dependent upon the accuracy of the previous paragraph.  If I have completely misunderstood this, then my argument will likely be easily torn apart.)

Now, if God is limited by future time, it seems to me that it would be difficult to argue that God is not limited by past time, as well.  -  This is where Stephen Hawking comes in.

Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking has stated (if I remember this correctly!) that he believes that Science proves that God does not exist, or at least that God the Creator does not exist.  -  Here is what he says (as I remember it):

Time and space exist in a continuum, i.e., they are linked.  Time is affected by space, in particular, by gravity.  Einstein came up with the idea that gravity warps space.  And, since space and time are linked, time, too is warped in the same way.  Further, time gets slower the greater the gravity.  This explains why the clocks on satellites have to continually be adjusted.  It also explains Hawking’s theory that it could, at some point, be theoretically possible to “time-travel” into the future (though not to the past).   -  But that is another subject!

At any case, Hawking argues that when one (figuratively!) goes back in time to the point of the “big bang,” due to the density of space, time would slow down to the point that time actually stops.  He argues, then, that there would literally be no time (or space?) for a god to “say, ‘Let there be . . .’”  There would be no time for anybody to say anything or to do anything.  There would be no time.

Hawking’s assumption, interestingly, is very much like the assumption of open theology.  Namely, Hawking and open theologians, both, understand God to be One who is subject to, bound by, limited by . . . time.  The open theologian understands God to be limited by (present and) future time (i.e., the reason for God not being able to know the future is an issue of time).  Hawking sees God as being limited by past (and all) time.

If open theology subjects God to future time, I find it difficult to understand how God would not be subject to time in the past.  That is, why would Hawking be wrong about the existence of this god?

That is my question for open theology.  (Now, it may easily be answered by open theologians, but I would like to hear the answer; an answer that views time consistently and takes what Science says about time, seriously.)

So, if open theology is correct, why is Stephen Hawking incorrect?  And if Stephen Hawking is incorrect (i.e., if God actually exists outside of time and space, and actually is the Creator of time and space), then why should we assume that open theology not also incorrect?

This, by the way, is a subject that Fred Cawthorne, Associate Professor of Physics at Trevecca Nazarene University, takes up in his chapter, “The Harmony of Science and the Christian Faith” in Square Peg: Why Wesleyan’s Aren’t Fundamentalists (Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City).  -  There, he is not arguing with open theology.  He is, however, using the conclusions of Science and the beginning of creation to affirm the traditional Christian understanding “that God transcends space and time, that the universe was created ex nihilo (out of nothing) and that the universe is fully dependent at every moment on God’s continual creative and sustaining work.”

Now, where, some might wonder, do Guinan and the “worm-hole prophets” come in?  (I saved this for the last part of the article to make sure that my non-Star Trek friends would not stop reading before getting to the main point!  -  So, here we go.)

Guinan is a character played by Whoopi Golberg in Star Trek the Next Generation.  Guinan is an El-Aurian, a very long-lived “race of listeners.”  Last night I watched the “Yesterday’s Enterprise” episode of STNG.  In that episode, there is a rift in the time-space continuum, allowing the Enterprise-C to enter into the time period of the Enterprise-D; some 22 years into their future (if I remember the time correctly).  This event caused a seismic change in the time-space continuum.  It altered the timeline.

Now, no one was aware of this change in the timeline (though, or course they were quite aware that the Enterprise-C was displaced in time).  -  No one, that is, except Guinan.  Guinan had the clear . . . “sense” that this time-line was wrong.  -  Data suggested that she might have a sense that went beyond linear time.  (Some have speculated that this sense might have to do with her connection to the Nexus, but that is another story!)  The point is, she had a sense that went beyond linear time.

The “worm-hole prophets,” on the other hand are from Star Trek: Deep Space 9.  Suffice it to say that they were . . . aliens . . . who existed outside of time.

Of course, Guinan and the worm-hole prophets are fictional characters.  (I do know that!)  The point is only to say that, if the God of open theology were to be a part of the Star Trek universe, then, at least in this regard, Guinan and the worm-hole prophets would be greater than God.  . . . And do we really want to say that!  :0)


Thomas Jay Oord said...

Thanks for the article!

You've got so much packed in it, I'm not sure where to start with my comments. But I think you're wrestling with the right ideas!

You're right to say Open theism believes God is time-full rather than timeless. To use more popular vernacular, God is in time rather than outside it. I like to say God is pantemporal rather than nontemporal.

In my view (and in the view of many others), the God who is time-full is the God most often described or implied by biblical authors. You don't have to be an open theist to think this. Most biblical scholars I know agree.

Even non-open theists (such as John Wesley) think God cannot do a host of things. One of them is that God cannot change the past. So in this sense, time limits God. (I also have a nice Wesley quote in which he says God can't override human freedom. Let me know if you want me to send it.)

Open theists think the future is not yet actual, so no one can know with certainty what will occur. You're right that most open theists think we cannot reconcile genuine creaturely freedom with the notion that the future is already settled. And open theists say God cannot know with certainty a future that has not already been settled.

But it's also the case that open theists think the biblical witness better supports this view of God's relation to time.

I personally think that non-open theists should think God is in time if they also affirm something like a social Trinity. If God gives and receives love among the members of the trinity and has been doing so everlastingly, this suggests time-full exchanges (give and receive) occur within the Godhead. So God is essentially time-full in Godself as Trinity, not timeless.

Well, I'm starting to ramble. I've talked about these issues in various publications. I might recommend by book, The Nature of Love. But another good place to start is Greg Boyd's book, God of the Possible.

Thanks again for addressing these issues!


Todd Stepp said...

Thanks, Tom, for being so gracious to comment! I greatly appreciate it.

I don't think that the argument that God is "above time" or outside of time means that God does not chose to act within time. That seems to be obvious, else we would have no record of God in history.

However, does your book, or the other book address Hawking's idea of there being "no time" just before the "big bang," and how such lack of time effects a God who is limited by time? Or is that just . . . a dumb question?

Kevin Jackson said...

That was very nice of Dr Oord to stop by. :) He's a good guy.

I lean towards a classical view of foreknowledge, but here's one way to address the question:

God could have the ability to exhaustively know a fixed future, but at the same choose to purposely limit this aspect of his power. God limits himself in lots of ways, so this wouldn't be inconsistent for him to do if he wanted to. This is sort of a hybrid open and classical understanding of foreknowledge - where God can transcend time but still blindfold himself to certain things on the horizon. This allows for genuine relationship with humanity and human freedom. This view is also a reasonable way to explain stuff like fixed prophesies.

Thomas Jay Oord said...


These are definitely not dumb questions! And Hawking says different things at different times, so I'm not entirely clear where the stands.

Your response led me to two major thoughts:

A. Most people who think God is outside time but enters into time think God is ESSENTIALLY timeless. Open theists and others think God is ESSENTIALLY timefull. And it's difficult to combine the two without leading to contradictions.

B. The notion of beginnings is part of a large cosmological discussion. I'll insert a few paragraphs from my book, Defining Love, which explores cosmology, creation ex nihilo, and love. Here's the brief material from the chapter that popped into mind:

Cosmologist Paul Davies identifies six theories about beginnings or lack thereof:

1. An absolute beginning to the universe and subsequent everlasting expansion.
2. An absolute beginning to the universe followed by the termination of the universe after a period of expansion.
3. An absolute beginning to the universe, expansion to a maximum state, and a return to a state identical to the absolute beginning.
4. An everlastingly cyclic universe, in which expansion and contraction is followed by a “big bounce” into another cycle of expansion and contraction.
5. A steady state universe with no beginning or end but everlasting expansion.
6. An everlasting multiverse in which our universe is one among others.

Each of these theories supports various emotional, theological, and metaphysical preferences. For instance, some theists prefer the steady state model, because it eliminates the big bang theory. They regard big bang theory as a naturalistic hypothesis meant to eliminate the need for divine action. Other theists prefer big bang models that emphasize the absolute beginning of our universe, because they believe the big bang fits better with the notion that God created from absolutely nothing (creatio ex nihilo). Some atheists prefer the multiverse model, because it seems to weaken the fine-tuning argument and thus cosmology’s vulnerability to hypotheses about a creative role for God. In this segment, we look more closely at what is at stake in speculation about before, during, and after the initiation and expansion of our universe.

For what it's worth,

Tom said...

Todd, thanks for starting this discussion (I, also, wanted to explore/challenge Open Theology!).

Tom, thanks for chiming in! It would be nice if you would reference some of the Scripture you speak of, however . . .

I think that we would all agree that any theology is just humankind's attempt to understand God. God is not bound by our description of Him.

With that in mind, I think that any theology that limits God (such as Open Theism) is an attempt to fit Him into our understanding or, if you will, control Him. (I would imagine that Open Theists will emphatically disagree with this.) Assuming this thought, however, I have to ask, "who are we to try to control God?"

As I have watched a recommended video of an "expert" on Open Theism try to explain it, I got the very distinct impression that Open Theism is necessary to combat the Reformed view of pre-destination (that God determines, not just knows who will accept Him as Savior). As Arminians, I don't think that we have that necessity. Not having a Reformed outlook, we don't need to defend against it. And certainly, we don't need an apologetic for pre-destination as Arminianism is not successfully disputed (in my opinion) and can not readily be dismissed.

Bottom line (for me anyway): Since we don't struggle with pre-destination/free will we don't need the explanation of Open Theism. Since that explanation isn't needed, I don't need to try to control God (OK, "understand") God as Open Theism does. Since we don't need to understand God (at least in this area), we further don't need to limit Him as Open Theism does.

My faith can withstand some mystery. I don't need to know how God knows the future without dictating it or without limiting my free will, I just believe it and allow Him to do it.

Now, if clear Scriptural evidence could be supplied, I may change my view, but after over 2000 years of scholarship, it seems that clear Scripture would have caused someone to suggest the Open Theist view before now.


Daryl Densford said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daryl Densford said...

(Can't edit previous comments, sorry)

My previous relation of Open Theism to Pre-destination would probably be better stated as a "reaction to" rather than an effort to "combat" Pre-destination. I believe the speaker in the aforementioned video even said he was put-off my Calvinist doctrine.

It should be added that Open Theism isn't just a new way of understanding God, but is, in fact, an attempt at redefining the very nature of God from what has been understood from His Word and practice by the Church for centuries.

To suggest that God should no longer be considered omniscient should be supported by some pretty compelling Scripture and not just thoughtful philosophical arguments.

Sure, Christians should use reason and Science in the exploration of theology but not at the expense of tradition and certainly not without overwhelming and compelling Scriptural support.

Todd Stepp said...

Just a word of thanks to Tom for adding the information from his book, and to Kevin and Daryl for their comments. - It is greatly apprecaited guys!

Tim said...

You said "That part of open theology that I am questioning in this article is the idea that God does not know the future."

My thinking is that Open Theists aren't saying this at all. Instead what they are saying is that a significant part of the future isn't there to know. Hence, Open Theists always affirm that God is omniscient. They can define it as God knows everything that can be known. In other words what is logically possible to know.

Let me explain. I can say that God doesn't know the colour of my daughters hair. But how can I say that? Well, I don't have a daughter. Hence, it is logically impossible for any being to know that information. In the same way we can talk about the future, or at least that part of the future open to the choices of free creatures is not been settled in anyway in advance. Hence, to say that God knows what choices free creatures will make in advance is logically impossible. God doesn't know because they haven't made those decision yet. No being could know, because it isn't information out there to know yet.

You have correctly identified the issue as relating to time. Open Theists tend to believe that God isn't outside time. Well, maybe that needs to be more nuanced. God isn't outside sequence. Hence, indeed the trinity was showing love amongst it's members before creation. Love is an action as well as a feeling, action requires acts - which have sequence. Hence, God lives and operates in sequence.

Discussions about relativity may impact ones view on perhaps how God experiences time...but none the less the Biblical position is that God experiences progression.

The following phrases are taken from the Bible, my view is that they show very much that God is everlasting ie has always been and will always time:-

"Everlasting - From of old - Before ever He had formed the earth - The Ancient of Days - Before the world was - From before the ages of the ages - From ancient times - He continues forever - Remains forever - Immortal - The Lord shall endure forever - Forever and ever - Who lives forever - God’s years - manifest in His own time - God who is - Alive forevermore - Who was - Who is to come - Always lives - Forever - In the age to come - Continually - God’s years never end - From everlasting to everlasting - From that time forward, even forever - And of His kingdom there will be no end."

Useful link that I took the above Biblical quotes from:



Todd Stepp said...


Thank you for your comments.

I do understand clearly the reason that open theism says that God does not know the future, and you have expressed it; viz., the future is not actual, thus it cannot be known. - I get that.

Nevertheless, that is the reason behind the idea that . . . God does not know the future. In other words, when you say, "Open Theists aren't saying this at all," it is not quite correct. If asked, "Does God know the future?" the response would be "No . . . because the future is not actual." - It may be a matter of symantics. The bottom line is that, for the Open Theists, God does not know the future. The reason is, the future is not actual, thus it cannot be known.

However one looks at it, the Open Theists hold a view different than that which has been held by the larger tradition of the Church. - That, in itself, does not make them wrong. However, traditional Arminians, Calvinists, Catholic & Orthodox, alike, have affirmed that God does know the future. That, while it is not "actual for us," nevertheless the God who does enter into and acts within time, also stands above time.

In thinking about the passages of Scripture that you mentioned, and while not wishing to "proof text," I am reminded of this week's OT reading wherein God says to Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations."

The point of the article is to explore the idea that time, scientifically understood, is an actual thing, not simply the way we perceive events; that time and space are connected. Thus, it raises the question, if God is "bound by" time when it comes to the future, why would we not think that God is "bound by" time in the past? If that is the case, then Hawkings has a point. - If, on the other hand, Cawthorne's view is correct, then the traditional view that the future is knowable to God is upheld.

I appreciate your comments!

Thomas said...

If God cannot know the future, then what are we to make of Scripture passages which describe future event, like details about the endtimes or other events? Or, for instance, when Jesus tells Peter that he too will suffer and die as a martyr many years before it happens? Or when Jesus predicts that His disciples will scatter, or that Peter will deny Him three times? How does Open Theism deal with such prophecies?