Open Theism [, also known as neo-Arminianism,] is [primarily] a reaction against the Greek Influences on Christianity (Christopher Fisher, God is Open, soundcloud: 33 seconds onwards). One of such influences it denies is that God is outside of time, in an eternal now state (Michael R. Saia, Does God know the Future?, p. 24 onwards).
The eternal now state is the Platonic idea that for God there is no sequential experience but rather that the past, present and future happen in the “present”. This thought can be seen in the writings of Plato: “For there were no days and nights and months and years before the heaven was created, but when he constructed the heaven he created them also. They are all parts of time, and the past and future are created species of time, which we unconsciously but wrongly transfer to the eternal essence; for we say that he ‘was,’ he ‘is,’ he ‘will be,’ but the truth is that ‘is’ alone is properly attributed to him, and that ‘was’ and ‘will be’ only to be spoken of becoming in time, for they are motions, but that which is immovably the same, ‘is eternal’” (Timaeus, 37c-39e).
This unbiblical idea is later on brought into the church. We have, for example, Augustine stating that “You (God) have made time itself” (Confessions, Book XI, 13).
The Open Theist rejects such claims as being unbiblical. He believes that time is not a “thing” (compare the new quantum theory or William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument to Einistein’s view on time). God is not the creator of time, since creation implies a “before” and “after” (a time in which creation was not and a time in which creation is). Rather time is something which is not outside of God but is a necessary attribute of God. There must be sequence to create. Logical contradictions are even impossible for God to create. This does not mean, by necessity, that God is not omnipotent.
Thomas Aquinas stated about omnipotence: “All confess that God is omnipotent; but it seems difficult to explain in what His omnipotence precisely consists: for there may be doubt as to the precise meaning of the word ‘all’ when we say that God can do all things. If, however, we consider the matter aright, since power is said in reference to possible things, this phrase, ‘God can do all things,’ is rightly understood to mean that God can do all things that are possible; and for this reason He is said to be omnipotent” (Summa Theologiae, 1a, Q. 25, A. 3, Respondeo, emphasis mine).
The same idea of defining a term correctly is applicable to God’s omniscience; what does “knowing everything” mean? As Lorenzo Dow McCabe wrote: “As omnipotence is limited by the possible, so omniscience is limited by the knowable. The cases are absolutely similar. As this limitation of omnipotence does not render God imperfect, so also this limitation of omniscience does not render him less than perfect. The limitation in both cases rests on the same ground; namely, the law of self-consistency, the law that obtains against self-contradiction. We do not limit omnipotence by denying its power to do Impossible or self-contradictory things. Neither do we limit omniscience by denying its power to foreknow unknowable things” (Divine Nescience & Foreknowledge, p. 331).
The Open Theist does not agree with Augustine’s high view on Platonism and his low view on believing in the Bible (for example, Confessions, Book 6, chapter 6). Rather, the Open Theist takes very serious what the Bible truly says about the connection between God and time.
Dr J. Barton Payne put it in very clear words: “God’s eternity was first revealed in Genesis 21:33, where Abraham called on the name of ‘Yaweh, El Olam,’ the ‘everlasting God.’ The term olam, however, did not suggest to the Hebrews God’s transcendence of time, but rather His endless duration in time (cf. 6:4) – ‘everlasting.’… Moses’ closest approach to (God’s pre-existence) is to be found in his poetic comparison that a thousand years are but a day to God (Ps. 90:4) and in his exclamation that ‘before the mountains were brought forth, even from olam to olam Thou art God!’ (v.2). His words correspond to the expressions of Job (Job 10:5) and of his authoritative counselor Elihu (36:26) that God’s duration is limitless, reaching far beyond the years of man. These verses describe eternity, but again in the sense of continuation, not timelessness” (The Theology of the Older Testament, p. 152).
The Open Theist also takes serious when God changes His mind and does not sweep such statements under the rug, claiming them to be “anthropomorphisms”. One should not forget that an anthropomorphism depicts literal truths. It does not mean: “Ignore this verse, try to act as if it’s not there or interpret it the opposite way”. In the words of Christopher Fisher: “This is no different than labeling as fable, large swaths of the Bible” (“Irreducible Complexity in the Bible”, godisopen).
The Open Theist believes that Jonah was a prophet of the Lord and that God really had in mind to destroy Nineveh in 40 days (Jonah 3:4). He believes that the Ninevites believed God on His word (Jonah 3:5). He also believes that God repented (changed His mind) of this plan when He saw that the Ninevites turned from their evil way (Jonah 3:10). He also believes that God had a real conversation (not an anthropomorphism) with Moses (Exodus 32:7) and that He planned on destroying the Israelites (Exodus 32:10). He also believes that God changed His mind after His chat with Moses (Exodus 32:14).
As an Open Theist, I sometimes cry tears of sadness when I read Genesis 1 and read that “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31) and that He stated in Genesis 6 that “it repenteth Me that I have made them [human beings]” (Genesis 6:7). I believe that God really was “grieved in His heart” (Genesis 6:6) and, trying to stick to the Bible, I just cannot understand how people can have the audicity to state such things as: “God predestined the fall to happen, for His great pleasure”.
Although there are many more things to say about Open Theism, I hope that this will clarify some of the misunderstandings that arise due to misrepresentations of Open Theism by certain individuals who have not really studied on this subject themselves.
To me, and to every Open Theist I know, Open Theism is certainly not a salvific issue. The Bible does not state that if one does or does not believe in it, he or she shall be anathema or he or she shall be condemned to the lake of fire. Neither does any creed or council affirm such a thing.
By my knowledge, never has any Open Theist had the intent of creating any schisms within churches at all. Due to false accusations / misrepresentations on the part of classical theists, such ideas have crept into churches (cf. the interesting article by classical Arminian Roger E. Olson, “Is Open Theism a Type of Arminianism?”, patheos).
I pray for unity among Open Theists, Arminians, Calvinists,… and all I ask of you is that you will do your own research.
Ps. To find out more about Open Theism, a good place to start is “Why I Am An Open theist” by Jesse Morrell (youtube) and Does God Know the Future? (by Michael R. Saia).
The following links will take you there:
(This e-book version is available for free here, with permission of the author.)
General articles on Open Theism available here.