The Openness of God

William Hasker

In this selection, William Hasker develops some themes from the book, The Openness of God, which he co-authored with Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, John Sanders and David Basinger. After giving a brief overview of the book, he recounts the process by which, over a period of years, he came to embrace the “open view” of God. He then summarizes various stances on the nature of God’s providential governance of the world, and concludes with some arguments designed to show the advantages of the open view of God over its competitors. Mr. Hasker is Professor of Philosophy at Huntington College and former editor of Christian Scholar’s Review.

Note! You will find a response to the following article (also from Christian Scholar’s Review) by Alfred J. Freddoso, Professor of Philosophy at University of Notre Dame. You will find his response, here.

This article was taken by permission from Christian Scholar’s Review 28:1 (Fall, 1998: 111-139)


God is not remote, closed off, and self-contained. Rather, God is open to us his creatures, to the world he has made, and to the future. We in turn need to be open towards God and towards the future he is creating for us. These are the central themes of the book The Openness of God.[1] The book is the joint product of five authors, each of whom had arrived at a similar understanding of the nature of God largely independent of the others. This general conception of God has been extensively discussed among Christian philosophers, and to a certain extent among theologians as well. But there has not existed any overall presentation of the view that is usable and accessible for students, pastors, and lay Christians. We aimed to supply this lack. We have been gratified by the reception of the book; many persons have expressed appreciation for the enlightenment and spiritual benefit they have received from it. Others, more attached to some of the traditional conceptions our approach rejects, have been strongly critical.[2] We thank the editors of the Christian Scholar’s Review for the opportunity to continue the discussion in its pages. The first part of this essay will briefly introduce the book itself. The second part will trace, somewhat autobiographically, the development of my own views on these topics. The final section will reflect on the understanding of divine providence, and divine action in the world, presented in the book.

Section I

The book is subtitled, at the suggestion of the publisher, A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God. That is a good description of the book, though how radical the challenge is depends on your point of view-in particular, on where. you locate the center of the tradition. We do reject such classical metaphysical divine attributes as simplicity, impassibility, absolute immutability, and timelessness. We reject Calvinism with its claim that God determines all that happens through his eternal decrees, and Molinism with its subtler view that God’s control is mediated by his knowledge of the “counterfactuals of freedom.” (A bit more will be said about Molinism in the next section.) All of us hold that comprehensive divine foreknowledge is incompatible with libertarian free will for creatures. We portray God “as majestic yet intimate, as powerful yet gentle and responsive, as holy and loving and caring, as desiring for humans to decide freely for or against his will for them, yet endlessly resourceful in achieving his ultimate purposes” (p. 154).

The first chapter, written by Richard Rice, presents biblical support for the “open view” of God. There is a great deal of such support; much more than we commonly think, accustomed as we are to reading Scripture through the lens of traditional interpretations. In particular, Rice lays a good deal of emphasis on the biblical notion of divine “repentance,” drawing on the work of Old Testament scholar Terence Fretheim. I would not want to claim that Richard succeeds in resolving all biblical problems for our view-I doubt, in fact, that anyone has succeeded in doing that for any view-but he does establish the open view of God as one that has strong biblical credentials.

The second chapter, by John Sanders, begins by asking, “Why do we not usually read the Bible in the way suggested in the previous chapter?” (p. 59) The answer to this is found in a broad survey of the history of Christian thought, revealing the extensive influence within Christian theology of certain conceptions ultimately drawn from Greek philosophy. The sources of these ideas can be traced back to Philo Judaeus and Plotinus, among others, and they were mediated to mainstream Christian theology through such figures as Augustine and, especially, Pseudo Dionysius. Some criticisms of this chapter have misunderstood its intent. We do not contend that the theologians of the Church have “sold out” to philosophy,[3] and we do not necessarily regard the influence of Greek philosophy on Christian theology as on the whole inimical. But even if, like me, you regard the availability of Greek philosophy to the early Church as “a manifestation of divine providence” (Openness, p. 194, n.1), it remains true that “great discernment was required in applying philosophical conceptions to the biblical God, and we need not assume that the church fathers made the correct decisions in every case” (ibid.). Nor is it a telling criticism to point out that major theologians of the church have already emphasized some of the themes we stress-for example, in Luther’s theologia crucis.[4] We have no desire whatever to claim that what we are saying is completely novel, and unknown in earlier ages of the Church–quite the contrary, in fact. All too often, however, these authentic biblical insights have been overwhelmed by a theology which insists that the Bible cannot possibly mean what it seems to be saying.

The third chapter, on systematic theology by Clark Pinnock, is to my mind the heart of the entire book. In this chapter Clark spells out, briefly but very effectively, the conception of God and God’s relationship with the world which is the core of our view. I suspect that a person’s reaction to this chapter may well be determinative for her response to the book as a whole. If she finds this portrait of God unappealing, even repellent, then she is unlikely to be moved by the arguments and biblical texts presented throughout the book. But if she finds that the portrayal of God .speaks to her condition,” then she may well be willing to explore with us the various considerations, and the answers to difficulties and objections, which lead us to conclude that the picture is a truthful one. Let me add here that both in this chapter and throughout the book we take considerable pains to distinguish our view of God from the one presented by process theology, to equate the two[5] is a serious-and, I have to think, culpable [6] misrepresentation of our view.

We come now to my own chapter, which reviews from the perspective of philosophical theology the various ways in which the open view of God differs from the classical theism of Augustine and Aquinas. I draw upon the work of Nicholas Wolterstorff, among others, for the themes of divine temporality and possibility, as well as on my own previous work. The latter part of the chapter reviews various options for understanding divine providence, ranging from deterministic Calvinism at one extreme to process theism at the other, and makes the case for the open view of God, sometimes also called “free will theism.”

The final chapter, by David Basinger, develops the practical implications of the openness of God, ranging over such topics as petitionary prayer, divine guidance, human suffering, and the social and evangelistic responsibilities of believers.

Section II

In this section I am going to introduce some of the key issues of the book in a somewhat unusual way. Often in reading various writers (especially when the views expressed are unusual and controversial), I find myself asking, “Now, why did she say that? What is going on here?” The answer to my questions will not necessarily be found in a recitation of evidence and arguments; rather, what I am asking for is insight into the actual thought-process that led the author to espouse those particular views. Since I suspect that others may ask the same sorts of questions, I will set down here a brief account of the way in which, over a number of years, I came to accept the “open view” of God. There is nothing normative about my particular history, of course, and if my coauthors were to tell their own stories they would all be somewhat different. Still, I hope that what I have to say will be helpful at least for some readers.

My story begins in the fall of 1952, about the time I entered Wheaton College as a freshman. I had been influenced by scientific notions about human beings to which I had been exposed, and I remember asking my parents just where inside our skins this “free will” they talked about was located. I also recall trying to think about moral responsibility along the lines of what I now recognize as compatibilism. (According to compatibilism, we can be responsible for. our actions and in some sense “free” even though our actions are completely determined by previous events and circumstances.) But sometime within the next year and a half or so I had given up this way of thinking, and had come to accept libertarian free will. (According to libertarianism, a choice is free only if another choice was really possible under exactly the same [external and internal] circumstances.) I can’t trace the details of the process by which this change came about, but undoubtedly an introductory course in philosophy taken from Arthur Holmes played a role in it. A major event in my junior year was a course in the thought of Augustine, also with Arthur Holmes. As a result of this course I read the Confessions, several of the minor works, and the entirety of The City of God-and the latter work, especially, precipitated a severe intellectual struggle. I was torn between my love and admiration for Augustine (which still persist today) and the deeply troubling aspects of his doctrines of election and reprobation. Eventually I concluded that the God of holiness, love, and justice in whom both Augustine and I believed simply could not be the author of an eternal, unconditional decree of reprobation. And in this conviction I have never wavered down to the present day. (I still have a copy of an exegesis paper on which Paul Jewett, my favorite professor at Fuller Seminary, commented acerbically on my Arminian exposition of Romans 9!)

A further result of this experience is that I seem to be permanently immune to a way of thinking which some of my fellow Christian philosophers find attractive. The persons I have in mind find any kind of determinism due to natural causes whether physical determinism according to natural law, or psychological determinism by the “strongest motive”-unacceptable and very much to be resisted. But with regard to the theological doctrine that God sovereignly determines everything that occurs, they think a different response is in order. God, they remind us, is not a “cause among causes,- another being who vies with us for control in the arena of creaturely activity. God is the Creator of all, and to be subject to his creative will is in no way to be compared with a bondage to mechanistic determinism. In fact, to deny that God exercises such control is very nearly to deny that he is our creator. I agree, of course, that God’s causal activity in the world is of a different sort than the causal activity that creatures exercise on each other. I also agree that determinism based on natural causes and theological determinism are logically independent of each other; either could be true without the other,[7] both could be true, or (as I believe to be the case) both could be false. But none of this suggests to me that, of the two, theological determinism should be the more readily accepted. If anything, the difference runs the other way: it is far more readily intelligible that society should hold us responsible for actions produced by natural causes-causes, however, over which society has only limited control-than that a wise and just God should hold us responsible for actions which are, through and through, entirely controlled by his own decretive will. So my opposition here is to determinism as such; the particular variety of determinism involved is of secondary importance.

At this time I entertained no serious doubts about the compatibility of free will and divine foreknowledge; I comforted myself with the familiar (but ultimately inadequate) reflection that divine foreknowledge does not cause human actions to occur and therefore cannot keep them from being free. So you could say that my view was one of “simple foreknowledge,” but I also felt considerable attraction, under the influence of Augustine and C. S. Lewis, towards the doctrine of timeless divine eternity. Perhaps there was a slight tendency for the latter view to predominate in my thinking, but the tension between them was never really resolved, nor did I feel any pressing need to resolve it.

Finally, let me observe that it was sometime during these years-whether I was in college or in seminary at the time I can’t say-that I first became aware of the doctrine of divine middle knowledge. This theory, also known as Molinism,[8] holds a special view about the nature of divine foreknowledge. God, according to Molinism, not only knows beforehand all the actual decisions that will be made by his free creatures; he also knows what any such creature would have done in any possible situation with which she might have been confronted, even if the choice is never actually made. (The statements describing these hypothetical free choices are nowadays referred to as “counterfactuals of freedom.”) Right from the very beginning, this theory struck me as being entirely implausible. When a person makes a free choice, it seemed (and still seems) to me, there is nothing whatever either in the circumstances involved or in the nature and character of the chooser that determines in advance the decision that will be made. So if God knows such a choice, it is the actual choosing itself that he knows, and nothing else. But if the choice is never in fact made, then there is no “actual choosing,” and thus nothing for God to know. And this perspective has remained with me ever since, through all my later study and criticism of the theory.

It was in 1973, at a summer institute in the philosophy of religion held in Grand Rapids, that I first became aware of Nelson Pike’s argument for the incompatibility of divine foreknowledge and human freedom. The argument at once struck me as extremely compelling, and I have never wavered from that first impression. None of the ingenious ways of evading the argument has seemed to me at all satisfactory. Without doubt my acceptance of Pike’s argument was facilitated by the presence in my thinking of divine timelessness as a plausible back-up position. Surely, I thought, there can’t be anything unorthodox about believing that divine foreknowledge is incompatible with free will, when Thomas Aquinas held the very same view?

Over the next several years, however, the difficulties involved in divine timeless eternity began to press in on me. When I began to write a paper exploring the difficulties of this doctrine,[9] I fully expected to find in the doctrine some insuperable logical incoherence which would render it untenable. As I worked through the paper, however, I was impressed to find that plausible, apparently coherent answers could be crafted to meet all of the logical difficulties that presented themselves. The result was that, in my thinking, timelessness got a reprieve; the article ends in an indecision which was a true reflection of my state of mind at the time.

The reprieve, however, was only temporary; it came to an end with the rejection of timelessness in my 1989 book God, Time, and Knowledge.[10] I still regard the doctrine of timelessness as coherent and intelligible–or at least, I don’t think it has been shown to be incoherent or unintelligible. But divine timelessness, for reasons I will explain presently, does not help any more than simple foreknowledge in enabling us to understand God’s actions in providence and prophecy. It clearly is not the biblical way of thinking about God; it can be read into a few biblical texts only after we have already settled, on other grounds, that this is the way God must be understood. For me personally, however, the decisive consideration was that a timeless God would be able to know us human beings only as timeless representations in his “eternal present”; this, it seems to me, detracts seriously from the personalism and intimacy which are so important to our relationship with God. My conclusion at this point is that the doctrine of timelessness is inadequately motivated apart from a neoplatonic-inspired metaphysic that few Christian philosophers, at this juncture, can bring themselves to embrace.

And this brings us down to the present. If God is not all-determining, as the Calvinists think, if he does not possess middle knowledge, as urged by the Molinists, if he does not possess “simple foreknowledge” of the actual future, and if, like us, he experiences the passage of time moment by moment and not all at once in the “eternal now,” then it follows ineluctably that God’s knowledge of the future, incomparably greater though it is than any knowledge we could possess, is not the complete, certain, and infinitely detailed knowledge posited by most of the theological tradition. Though this conclusion is not one that I am now reluctant about, it was arrived at with considerable reluctance and after extended reflection, as I trust the foregoing narrative has made clear. What remains is to work out the implications of this-and that is what we have tried to do in The Openness of God.

Section III

What, then, are the implications of this view of God for our understanding of providence?[11] According to the open view of God, God is strictly omnipotent, in that he is able to do anything which is logically possible, and consistent with God’s perfect nature. It is worth stressing that God as so conceived is in no way deficient in power as compared with God as viewed by Calvinism.[12] We hold that God is completely capable of creating a universe, every detail of whose history is solely determined by his sovereign decree. But it seems to us that a wise and good God would not want-and in fact, has not chosen-to create a universe such as this. We in turn would ask the Calvinist, “Is God as you conceive him unable to create a world in which there are free creatures who voluntarily enter into a relationship of love and friendship with him? Or does he prefer a world in which he alone monopolizes control, leaving nothing to be decided by his creatures? And why should we think that he would prefer a world like that?”

God is also omniscient, in that he knows everything that logically can be known. We believe, however, that it is logically impossible for God to have foreknowledge of creaturely actions that are truly free. (An argument for this will be given below.) Note, however, that God has a vast amount of knowledge about the probabilities that free choices will be made in one way rather than another. To be sure, God could have created a world in which he would have full foreknowledge of every detail, simply by creating a world in which everything that happens is fully controlled by his sovereign decrees. But it seems to us that God found such a world less desirable-less appealing to his creative goodness-than a world which contains genuinely free creatures.

We believe that the open view of God has important advantages over alternative views (such as Calvinism and Molinism) in conceiving our personal relationship with God. God knows an immense amount about each one of usfar more, in fact, than we know about ourselves-but he does not, because he cannot, plan his actions towards us on the basis of a prior knowledge of how we will respond. That is to say: he is not a manipulator, relating to us by “pressing the right buttons” to get the exact response he desires to elicit. And this means that God is a risk-taker; in expressing his love towards us, he opens himself up to the real possibility of failure and disappointment. God doesn’t, of course, “need” us in all of the ways we need one another, but he does genuinely and deeply care about us; he is saddened when we reject his love, and rejoices when one of us turns to him in repentance and faith.

We believe that the open view of God is substantially better off than alternative views in dealing with the problem of evil. According to this view God knows that evils will occur, but he has not for the most part specifically decreed or incorporated into his antecedent plan the individual instances of evil. Rather, God’s governance of the world is primarily in terms of general strategies, strategies which are, as a whole, ordered for the good of the creation, but whose detailed consequences are not foreseen or intended by God prior to the decision to adopt them. As a result of this, we are able to abandon the difficult doctrine of “meticulous providence,” [13] and to admit the presence in the world of particular evils God’s permission of which is not the means of bringing about any greater good or preventing any equal or greater evil. And this, we believe, is an important advantage for our view as compared with others.

Criticisms of the openness-of-God theory typically claim that God as we conceive him would be unable to do the kinds of things that Scripture represents God as doing. One such complaint deals with the subject of prophecy-if God doesn’t know everything about the future, how can he tell us about it? Obviously a full discussion of this topic is beyond our present scope (and also beyond my competence), so I must limit myself to a few summary remarks. We have available to us three different ways of understanding biblical prophecies, consistent with God’s openness to the future. Some prophecies-perhaps more than have generally been so recognized[14]–are conditional on the actions of human beings. Others are predictions based on existing trends and tendencies, while still others are announcements of what God himself intends to bring about irrespective of the choices made by creaturely agents. We believe (though I cannot argue here in detaiI[15]) that these approaches can lead one to a satisfying understanding of the phenomena of biblical prophecy. We will take time to consider here just one more objection against the open view of God. It is sometimes asserted that God as we conceive him would not be able to ensure the fulfillment of his plan even in the most general respects. If every single human being has it in her power to accept or reject God’s offer of salvation, and if God has no advance knowledge of how a person will respond, then it would be possible for every person without exception to reject salvation-and if this were to occur, there would be no “people of God,” no Church, and a key element in God’s plan would be frustrated. As things actually stand, to be sure, this has not happened, but it could have happened; that it has not, is attributable to nothing but “God’s luck.”

To answer this fully, we should have to know exactly what methods and resources are available to God in his providential governance of the world. But this is something we certainly do not know, and cannot expect to know-and without it, any answer to the objection must be based on speculation. We certainly should not underestimate the tremendous resourcefulness of God in adapting his responses to human actions even willful and disobedient human actions-so as to achieve his wise and loving purposes. But even if it is possible, on the open view of God, for all human beings without exception to reject salvation, still this might be overwhelmingly improbable o improbable that the risk of such an outcome is negligible. Consider a parallel: According to modem physics, there is a finite probability that all of the oxygen in a room should concentrate itself in a small volume, leaving the rest of the room devoid of oxygen and unable to sustain life. But the probability of this happening is so minute that rational persons can and do disregard the possibility in conducting their lives; I am completely confident that not a single one of my readers goes about with bottled oxygen in order to protect himself in the event of such an occurrence’ So why should our inability to show how God can logically guarantee that humans will respond to his love constitute a serious objection?

I will bring this discussion to a close by calling some arguments to your attention. First, let us consider an argument for the claim that comprehensive divine foreknowledge and human free will are logically inconsistent. The idea, roughly, is this: If God knows already what will happen in the future, then God’s knowing this is part of the past and is now fixed, impossible to change. And since God is infallible, it is completely impossible that things will turn out differently than God expects them to. But this means that the future event God knows is also fixed and unalterable, and it cannot be true of any human being that she is both able to perform a certain action and able not to perform that action. If God knows she is going to perform it, then it is impossible that she fail to perform it–so, she does not have a free choice whether or not to perform it. There are dozens of different versions of this argument; one of my favorites concerns a certain Clarence, known to be addicted to cheese omelets. Will Clarence have a cheese omelet for breakfast tomorrow morning, or won’t he? The argument proceeds as follows:

  1. It is now true that Clarence will have a cheese omelet for breakfast tomorrow. (Premise)
  2. It is impossible that God should at any time believe[16] what is false, or fail to believe anything that is true. (Premise: divine omniscience)
  3. God has always believed that Clarence will have a cheese omelet tomorrow. (From 1,2)
  4. If God has always believed a certain thing, it is not in anyone’s power to bring it about that God has not always believed that thing. (Premise: the unalterability of the past)
  5. Therefore, it is not in Clarence’s power to bring it about that God has not always believed that he would have a cheese omelet for breakfast. (From 3,4)
  6. It is not possible for it to be true both that God has always believed that Clarence would have a cheese omelet for breakfast, and that he does not in fact have one. (From 2)
  7. Therefore, it is not in Clarence’s power to refrain from having a cheese omelet for breakfast tomorrow. (From 5,6) So Clarence’s eating the omelet tomorrow is not an act of free choice.
  8. (From the definition of free Will)[17]

What this argument shows is that it is logically impossible that God should have foreknowledge of a genuinely free action. It follows from this that if there are actions which are free in the libertarian sense, it is logically impossible for God to know in advance how such actions will turn out. And in the light of our definition of omniscience, God’s failure to know what logically cannot be known in no way detracts from God’s omniscience. As soon as these truths become available, God will be the first to know them! (On the other hand, the definition of omniscience given in step 2 of the argument above is faulty, because it fails to allow for the possibility of truths which are intrinsically unknowable.)

Since it is out of the question to address all of the alternatives to the open view, my final two arguments will be directed primarily at what may be the most commonly accepted approach to these matters, the theory of “simple foreknowledge.” This theory accepts libertarian free will (unlike Calvinism), and rejects middle knowledge, but holds that God has complete and certain knowledge of the actual future.

Clearly there are reasons for the popularity of such an approach. It avoids the immense theological difficulties of Calvinism, and the logical and metaphysical perplexities of Molinism, yet it upholds what many perceive to be the irreducible minimum for an adequate doctrine of omniscience and foreknowledge. I maintain, however, that the advantages of this theory are less than meet the eye. In particular, there are no benefits whatever for our understanding of divine providence, of God’s action in the world, from the affirmation of simple foreknowledge. Let me explain why. Suppose God knows, in exhaustive detail, exactly what the situation on the earth will be as of a particular future date-say, April 11, 2003. Suppose, also, that there is something about that situation that displeases God-something he would wish to make otherwise. Could God not then act, at some time prior to the date in question, so as to bring about a situation on April 11, 2003, that is more in accord with his purposes? A little reflection will show this thought to be incoherent. For the future God knows is, by supposition, the actual future for that date; the supposition that God then acts so that what he knows to be the actual future is in fact not the actual future makes no sense at all. Reflection on this and similar scenarios will lead us to see that it is impossible that God should use a foreknowledge derived from the actual occurrence of future events to determine his own prior actions in the providential governance of the world. If simple foreknowledge did exist, it would be useless.[18]

Let me add a couple of comments concerning the application of this argument. First, notice that it applies equally to simple foreknowledge and to the doctrine of divine timelessness. The argument makes no use of the fact that God knows the future before it occurs; the difficulty arises from the circularity in which knowledge of a later event is the basis for God’s action at a time prior to the event in question. Thus the knowledge of the future possessed by a timeless God, like that of a God with simple foreknowledge, would be providentially useless.

The second point is one which, I now realize,[19] has not been stressed sufficiently in my previous discussions of this argument. Included among the range of divine actions which, according to the argument, could not be based on foreknowledge of events still to come, is the action of inspiring a prophet to predict the future.[20] The giving of a prophecy is just as much an action as the causing of a plague, and can have effects that are equally great; indeed, the prophets were inspired to speak as they did precisely in order to cause their hearers to act in ways they otherwise would not have. So any problem about prophecy that may exist for the open view applies also to simple foreknowledge and divine timelessness. To gain relief from such problems (if relief is really needed), your only recourse is to turn to Molinism or Calvinism.

The final argument I’ll present is targeted specifically at those of you who accept most features of the open view, but can’t bring yourselves to give up simple foreknowledge. You hold, as we do, that God is temporal and genuinely responsive. And you believe, like us but unlike Thomas Aquinas, that God’s compassion really is compassion and not just compassionate actions carried out against a divine emotional background of imperturbable tranquility But for whatever reason, you balk at giving up total divine foreknowledge. Let me say, first of all, that we openness-of-God believers regard you already as much more an ally than an opponent. What unites us truly is far more important than what divides us; in this context, the debate over foreknowledge and free will comes to seem more a fascinating logical conundrum than a fundamental theological watershed. Still, the difference remains, and we would like to persuade you to come the rest of the way and join us. The previous argument shows that your view doesn’t confer some of the benefits you may have supposed; the argument I’m about to present exhibits a positive advantage of the open view of God.

An important characteristic of the open view is that it takes seriously what we may term the “emotional life of God”-in Abraham Heschel’s term, the divine “pathos.” To be sure, a flatly literal reading of the biblical descriptions of God’s emotions is implausible; surely there is much here of anthropomorphism-or, more precisely, “anthropopathism.” Nevertheless, when we read that “As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear him” (Ps. 103:13), we take this for a true description of the inner life of God. Now I submit that many of these descriptions exhibit the following two characteristics: (1) The emotion ascribed to God is connected with, and appropriate to, the particular situation of the human beings to whom God is related; and (2) the emotion would be profoundly different if we assumed it to be informed by a definite prior knowledge of the situation’s outcome. To take a single example, consider the well-loved parable of the Prodigal Son. As we know, the “waiting father” in the parable represents God, and the father’s longing for his son’s return-an experience to which many a human parent can relate-represents the heavenly Father’s longing for the return of an estranged sinner. And then the son appears, and “while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). The father’s joy at this reunion is crucial for the parable as a whole. As Richard Rice observes, “the thrill of recovery is quite different from the satisfaction of a predictable achievement. . . . Losing something of value can inflict enormous pain. We feel the threat of permanent deprivation. The uncertainty as we search or wait to get it back can be agonizing. And then, if we’re fortunate, the moment of recovery brings a rush of surprise, relief and joy” (Openness, p. 41).

Now let’s try retelling the parable on the assumption that the father possesses foreknowledge of the outcome-he knows just when, where, and how his son will reappear. The father is still unhappy over his son’s absence, of course; to lose him from the family even for a limited time is a sad affair. But the father is spared any deep anxiety, nor will he stand day after day peering out in the hope that his son will reappear. Instead, on the appointed day he checks the calendar, glances at the sundial, and instructs the family retainer to break out the chariot: “Sonny will be showing up real soon now.” The whole emotional content of the parable is profoundly altered.

I wouldn’t expect this argument to have force for a classical theist like Anselm 123 or Aquinas. For them, all references to divine emotions are a mere manner of speaking, a way of communicating in terms of human-like emotions some distant reflection of the truth about a God who in reality is far above that sort of thing. But if, like me, you think God really does have an emotional life, then you may also feel you have some stake in being able to say that the emotions attributed to God in Scripture are emotions he really experiences. If that is what you want, the open view of God can give it to you-and so far as I can see, it is the only view that can.


[1] In this selection William Hasker develops some themes from the book, The Openness of God, Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, John Sanders, William Hasker, and David Basinger, The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God (Downers Grove, III.: InterVarsity, 1994). which he co-authored with Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, John Sanders and David Basinger. After giving a brief overview of the book, he recounts the process by which, over a period of years, he came to embrace the “open view” of God. He then summarizes various stances on the nature of God’s providential governance of the world, and concludes with some arguments designed to show the advantages of the open view of God over its competitors. Mr. Hasker is Professor of Philosophy at Huntington College and former editor of Christian Scholar’s Review.

[2] Readers wishing to sample the various reactions might consult the January 1995 issue of Christianity Today, where a generous appreciation by Roger Olson is followed by scathing reviews by Timothy George, Alister McGrath, and Douglas Kelly. For our response to thew reviews, see the Letters column in the February issue. Readers of Christianity Today will recall that The Openness of God was ranked 8th in their list of the “Top 25” books of 1994 (see the April 1995 issue).

[3] is implied by Douglas Kelly in his review in Christianity Today.

[4] Luther is stressed especially in Alister McGrath’s critique, also found in Christianity Today for January 1995.

[5] is done by Timothy George in his review in Christianity Today.

[6] For a reviewer to have deliberately disregarded the numerous passages in which we distinguish our view from process theology implies a willful misrepresentation that I am unwilling to attribute to George. But for all these passages to have been overlooked argues. a degree of negligence which is almost equally disturbing.

[7] Natural determinism could, of course, be true if theism were false. But I take it that the conjunction of theism and natural determinism entails theological determinism.

[8] For the sixteenth-century Jesuit theologian, Luis de Molina.

[9] Published as, “Concerning the Intelligibility of ‘God is Timeless,”‘ The New Scholasticism 57 (1983): 170-95.

[10] Ithica: Cornell University Press, 1989.

[11] In the next few pages I draw extensively from Openness, 147-154.

[12]In this part of the discussion I use “Calvinism” as a shorthand for theological determinism, while recognizing that historically not all theological determinists are Calvinists and not all who call themselves Calvinists are theological determinists. Edward Wierenga has objected to this usage, on the ground that “J. T. McNeil’s The History and Character of Calvinism … is not primarily a history of theological determinism!” (See Wierenga’s review of The Openness of God, forthcoming in Faith and Philosophy.) This is undoubtedly true, but the popular tendency to identify “Calvinism” with the doctrines of election and predestination is hardly without basis. Arminius, after all, agreed with the Synod of Dordt about practically everything except those doctrines, but apparently all that agreement is not enough to constitute him as a “Calvinist” in good standing!

[13] This term is taken from Michael Peterson, Evil and the Christian God (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1982); see especially pp. 79-99. Meticulous providence is best defined as the view that ” every single instance of evil that occurs is such that God’s permitting either that specific evil or some other equal or greater evil is necessary for some greater good that is better than anything God could have brought about without permitting the evil in question” (Openness, 146). Peterson does not commit himself on the issue of foreknowledge, but his theodicy overall is highly congruent with the open view of God.

[14]Usually only unfulfilled prophecies are identified as conditional, as a way of explaining why they were not fulfilled. But it is extremely plausible to suppose that many fulfilled prophecies were also conditional. See in this connection Jeremiah 18:7-10.

[15]Some additional material is found in Openness, 50-53.

[16] The term “believe” is used here instead of “know” for technical philosophical reasons; it does not imply that God’s “beliefs” are tentative or uncertain.

[17]God, Tirne, and Knowledge, 69.

[18] David Hunt has attempted to answer this argument, but I do not believe he succeeds. (See David P. Hunt, “Divine Providence and Simple Foreknowledge,” Faith and Philosophy 10 119931: 394-414. Also, Tomis Kapitan, “Providence, Foreknowledge, and Decision Procedures,” 415-20; David Basinger, “Simple Foreknowledge and Providential Control,” 421-27, and David P. Hunt, “Prescience and Providence: A Reply to My Critics,” 428-38.) In my view, the only way to avoid the argument would be to straightforwardly accept the possibility of circular explanations. Hunt hints that he might possibly be willing to do this (p. 413 n.5), but so far he has not pursued this possibility.

[19]This was called to my attention by John Sanders.

[20]Prophecy is alluded to in the connection in God, Time, and Knowledge, 58. But the point is not strongly emphasized, and could easily be missed by a reader.

William Hasker

John E. Sanders is an American theologian who is a professor of religious studies at Hendrix College. He has published on four main topics: (1) open theism, (2) Christian views on the salvation of non-Christians, (3) Christian views on the nature of hell, and (4) applying cognitive linguistics to theology.

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