Richard Rice on Open Theism

The following quotes are excerpts taken from Richard Rice’s book God’s Foreknowledge & Man’s Free Will (1985). This book was originally titled The Openness of God (1980). These quotes are general quotes and more specific quotes on specific themes will be added later on to other pages.

“Its [Open Theism’s] central thesis is that reality itself and consequently God’s experience of reality are essentially open rather than closed. This means that God experiences the events of the world He has created – especially the events of human history – as they happen, rather than all at once in some timeless, eternal perception. This also means that not even God knows the future in all its details. Some parts remain indefinite until they actually occur, and so they can’t be known in advance. Otherwise, as we shall see, the idea of freedom is meaningless. Although this thesis varies from the conventional Christian view of God’s relation to the world, it has the support of both the Bible and religious experience. It makes more sense on a rational basis as well. In addition, the open view of God ultimately enriches such concepts as divine providence, prophecy and foreknowledge.

Such an understanding of God’s relation to the world does not really represent a departure from the essential Christian concept of God. Indeed, it is more faithful to the biblical portrait of God than the more widely accepted view” (p. 10-11).

“If God’s knowledge of the future is exhaustive, then the entire future is definite, and creaturely freedom is an illusion” (p. 21).

“The static view of divine perfection and the concept of absolute foreknowmedge that it entails are fraught with difficulties. By denying God’s relationship to time they exclude the possibility of geuine creaturely freedom and evacuate the attribute of love of an essential component when applied to God. This concept of God has far more in common with the “unmoved mover” of Aristotle than with the God of the Bible. An examination of its history would uncover roots in Greek rather than Hebrew soil. Its prevalence in Christian theology offers yet another testimony to the enormous impact of that stream of ancient thought on the doctrines of the church. Fortunately, it is not the only view of God available’ (p. 23-24).

“The open view of God presupposes an open view of reality itself, in which the concepts of time, novelty, and freedom are essential. According to this view of reality, the temporal world is an ongoing process of events that come into existence. It is not a collection of things that simply are what they are. Time – the passage of the future into the past – is characteristic of the actual nature of reality. Time is not a mere projection of the way we happen to experience the world. Moreover, as the ongoing occurrence of events, reality is also characterized by the emergence of novelty. Not everything that will happen is already determined. A significant portion of the future remains to be decided. The part now open consists of the future free decisions made by the creatures as well as by God. So, in the open view of reality creaturely freedom plays an important role” (p. 31).

“The Bible portrays God as a person who is infinitely concerned with and sensitive to every aspect of the world. He responds to events as they actually happen. Sometimes He rejoices (Luke 15:7). Sometimes He sorrows (Gen. 6:6). Sometimes He wishes that things were drastically different than they are. His various reactions to events are genuine. They are not merely apparent. In a word, God is open to the world of creaturely experience. He is truly affected by our decisions, achievements, and disappointments.

This view suggests an intimate relation between God and the individual person. It implies that God s hares the events of a person’s life as he experiences them. God appreciates the full reality of one’s joy or sorrow at the precise time that person experiences it. It is not a datum in His knowledge from all eternity. My experience here and now contributes something novel to God’s experience too. This is impossible according to the usual view. For God possesses in one timeless perception the full value of all reality – past and future. The actual experiences of individual human beings contribute nothing to God’s experience that He does not already have.

There is another quality of experience, excluded by the traditional view of God’s relation to the world, that the open view makes it possible to attribute to God. This is the capacity for risk. A risk is an undertaking whose outcome is indefinite. The person who risks his life, for example, places himself in a situation where his survival is genuinely in doubt. So, I did not risk my life when I jumped into three feet of water to save my son several years ago, because my life was in no way threatened. I fully expected to survive. We often think of love as involving a risk. There is first of all the risk that love will not be returned. And if it is, there is the risk that something harmful may befall the object of one’s love. The willingness to accept the risk of being hurt or rejected is an essential aspect of our exsperience of love.

The open view of God allows us to attribute risk to the divine experience, thus enriching our appreciation of His love for us. There are at least two significant points in which we can think of God as assuling a risk. One is the Creation. The other in the Incarnation.

In creating morally free beings, God left the future of the world partially indefinite. Their free decisions would complete the future. In particular, God left up to human beings the decision of whether or not they would remain loyal to Him (Gen. 2:16, 17). In so doing, God undertook the risk of their disobedience. It was a risk He was willing to take, because without it their obedience would not have manifested personal love for Him.

Again at the Incarnation God undertook the risk that His Son would fail in His struggle with temptation. We can only speculate as to what the consequences of that possibility would have been. Perhaps they are literally unimaginable to us. But the genuineness of Christ’s temptations strongly supports the reality of the risk that God assumed (Matt. 4:1-11; 26:36-44; Luke 4:1-13; 22:39-44; Heb. 2:18; 4:15). And this heigtesns, if anything, our appreciation of His love. In giving His Son for man’s salvation, God was not merely expressing His disposition toward humanity. He was also running the risk of permanently disastrous consequences to the Godhead itself.

The customary view, however, of God’s relation to time makes it impossible to speak of God as ever risking anything. If God could foresee from all eternity the fall of man and the success of salvation, then neither Creation nor the Incarnation really involved a genuine risk. If at Creation God knew with absolute certainty that man would fall, He was not risking the moral harmony of the universe in making man. He was simply sacrificing it. Similarly, if God knew with complete certainty that Christ’s earthly mission would end in victory, He did not risk His Son in sending Him to the world for man’s salvation. He simply paid the price for a guaranteed result” (p. 42-43).

“The crucial question, though, is whether the actual existence of the creaturely world contributes anything to God’s experience. According to the view of absolute foreknowledge, it does not. For if God sees the world in all its reality before Creation, then He gains no new satisfaction from its actual, as opposed to imagined, existence. He has all the value of any world simply by foreseeing it.

By attributing temporal experiences to God, the open view of God’s relation to the world provides for a coherent conception of divine decision. On the view that God’s foreknowledge of the future is absolute and all-inclusive, there is no possibility of “decision” on God’s part. After all, no aspect of the future is indefinite to Him, including His own activities. Knowing the entire course of the future, God also knows the content of all His decisions. But to know exactly what one will decide is nothing other than to have made the decision already. Nothing is left to be decided. Indeed, since the very meaning of “decision” implies a transition from “undecided” to “decided” and thus requires temporal distinction, the concept of “divine decision” is inherently contradictory according to the conventional view. If, however, God’s experience is sequential in some sense, then we can think of God as really making d ecisions, as choosing between alternatives, as making definite something that was previously indefinite” (p. 44-45).

‘By maintaining that “time is real for God,” we are able to affirm genuine creaturely freedom. This, in turn, provides a coherent response to the problem of evil’ (p. 52).

‘One way to express the basic difference between the usual view of God’s relation to the world and the alternative this book proposes is to say that they involve contrasting concepts of the future. The customary view states that God knows the future in all its detail. It implies that the future itself is there to be known – fixed and changeless in every respect. We have seen that such a concept excludes creaturely freedom because genuine freedom requires that part of the future be indefinite until decided by free personal agents. In order to affirm creaturely freedom, the open view of God maintains that certain aspects of the future are as yet indefinite. Therefore they are unknowable. And this means that God’s knowledge of the future cannot be exhaustive.

Two misgivings may arise from the idea that God does not enjoy exhaustive knowledge of the future. One is the belief that Hod’s knowledge is less than perfect if there is anything He does not know. The other is the fear that a God ignorant of the future cannot meet its challenges. Neither objection is well-founded.

The belief that God does not know the content of the future decisions compromises the perfection of His knowledge only if we regard these decisions as there to be known before hey are actually made. But this is precisely what the open view of God denies. Future free decisions do not exist in any sense before they are made. So the real difference between the traditional view of God and the alternative proposed here is not that one attributes perfect knowledge to Hod, while the other doesn’t. Both affirm that God knows  everything there is to know. They differ, however, in their concepts of what there is to know. In particular, they differ in their concepts of the future. If, as the familiar view maintains, the future is already there in all its detail, then God knows everything that will ever happen. But if future free decisions do not yet exist, they are not there to be known until they are made. And the fact that God does not know them ahead of time represents no deficiency in His knowledge. Not knowing that which isn’t there to be known hardly constitutes ignorance. Just as not seeing what is not there to see is not a kind of blindness.

The consensus of Christian thinkers ranging from Thomas Aquinas to C. S. Lewis is that imnipotence, or perfect power, does not mean simply that God can do anything. [1] We cannot put just any combination of words after the expression “God can” and make a coherent statement. We cannot say, for example, that God can make a square circle or add two and two and get five or make a rock so big that He cannot lift it. This does not mean that there is something that God cannot do. Making square circles and the like is not doing something. It is literally nonsense. It implies no deficiency in divine power to say that God cannot do the logically impossible, not because the logically impossible lies beyond God’s power but because it is not anythind “doable.”

The point with respect to divine foreknowledge is precisely the same. Perfect knowledge, or omniscience, is not simply “knowing everything.” Rather, it is “knowing everything there is to know.” And, as we have seen, future free decisions are not there to be known until they are actually made. Accordingly, God’s not knowing them in advance does not imply that His knowledge is less than perfect. it simply means that His knowledge corresponds precisely with what there is to know’ (p. 53-55).

“At first glance, the phenomenom of prophecy seems to pose a problem for the open view of God. People often assume that it proves the validity of absolute foreknowledge. But careful investigation reveals something quite different. Properly understood, biblical prophecy gives strong support to the open view of God. It shows that the course of history is not a foregone conclusion. And it reveals that God’s relation to the world is dynamic and dramatic” (p. 81).


[1] “Nothing which implies contradiction falls under the omnipotence of God” (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, la, Question 25, Article 4, quoted in C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain [New York: The Macmillan Company, 1962], p. 26). According to Lewis himself, “Omnipotence means power to do all that is intrinsically possible, not to do the intrinsically impossible” (Ibid., p. 28).

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