A Critique of Free-Will Theism, Part One -- By: Robert A. Pyne

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 158:631 (Jul 2001)
Article: A Critique of Free-Will Theism, Part One
Author: Robert A. Pyne

A Critique of Free-Will Theism, Part One

Robert A. Pyne

Stephen R. Spencer

[Robert A. Pyne is professor of Systematic Theology, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas, and Stephen R. Spencer is professor of theology, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois.]

Does God know the future in exhaustive detail, or does His omniscience pertain only to the past and present? A relatively recent movement among evangelicals maintains that God’s knowledge is limited to what is knowable—past and present actualities.1 According to this view future contingent events are unknowable, even to God, because they are conditioned on other events and have not yet been determined.

This view has been called “open theism” or “the open view of God,” because it emphasizes that the future is open-ended, not closed.2 It has also been called “relational theism,”3 because its advocates believe God is engaged in a more genuine, “give-and-take” relationship with His creation, in contrast to classical theism, which they self-consciously reject. This series of two articles uses the term “free-will theism”4 because the nature of freedom under

providence constitutes the movement’s controlling concern.

Since each of these labels could be (and have been) applied to other theological movements,5 it is important to understand the view addressed here. Free-will theists differ from classical theists by rejecting divine timelessness, immutability, impassibility, meticulous providence, and exhaustive foreknowledge. They maintain that these doctrines rule out any genuine sense of human responsibility, divine relationality, or conflict between good and evil. If God determines (or completely knows) the future, they argue, then every event and every apparent choice takes place by necessity, for history cannot unfold any other way. Believing that individuals cannot be held responsible for what they do by necessity, free-will theists argue that a fully known (or knowable) future eliminates human freedom and responsibility. They also argue that classical theism entails a basic confusion between good and evil, as all things proceed equally from the same impassive Deity, who essentially becomes the Author of sin. As Pinnock summarizes the point, “Total knowledge of the future would imply a fixity of events. Nothing in the future would need to be decided. It also would imply that human freedom is a...

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