Divine Foreknowledge and Open Theism -- By: John S. Hammett

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 21:1 (Fall 2003)
Article: Divine Foreknowledge and Open Theism
Author: John S. Hammett

Divine Foreknowledge and Open Theism

John S. Hammett

Professor of Systematic Theology
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Wake Forest, North Carolina 27587


Since the 1994 publication of The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God, a firestorm of controversy has swept through the evangelical world.1 The movement called open theism has sparked dozens of books, articles, and discussions and has been a cause of great concern to the major organization of evangelical scholars, the Evangelical Theological Society. Some have passionately argued that one cannot believe in open theism and consistently maintain a belief in either the inerrancy of Scripture or an orthodox view of God, while others have steadfastly defended it as a view based on Scripture.

What about open theism is so serious as to cause such controversy and arouse such passion? While including numerous emphases, the issue that separates open theists from traditionalists is the contention of open theists that God does not and indeed cannot foreknow the future decisions of free moral agents (i.e., humans). To foreknow our future actions would render them certain and no longer free. Thus, while open theists are still willing to use the word “omniscient” of God, they understand omniscience in a new way. God is omniscient in that He knows all that can be known. He knows the past and present perfectly, and knows what He will do in the future, but He does not know what humans will do in the future, for such future free actions are not real; they have not yet happened and thus are unknowable, even for God. In a nutshell, open theists advocate a new understanding of the nature and extent of divine foreknowledge. This is the crux, or central issue, in open theism. One can hold many of the emphases of open theism (libertarian freedom, a loving and relational God, a concern over the problem of evil, for example), and still reject its view of God’s foreknowledge. But one cannot be an open theist and advocate a traditional understanding of divine foreknowledge.2

There are a number of extensive presentations and critiques of open theism and its implications.3 This paper will not attempt to review or interact with the substantial and growing literature on this topic, and will cite it only sparingly. Its aim, rather, is to focus on the single issue of divine foreknowledge, seeking to give the biblical teaching, historical understandings, and the theological

and practical importa...

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