|Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views|
William Lane Craig, Paul Helm, Gregory A. Boyd, David Hunt
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Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views provides a unique venue for well-known proponents of four distinct views in the openness of God debate to present their case. Paul Helm of King's College, London, presents the Augustinian/Calvinistic view. David Hunt of Whittier College contends for a simple foreknowledge view. William Lane Craig of Talbot School of Theology argues for middle knowledge, or Molinism, and Gregory A. Boyd of Bethel College presents the openness view.
The Open-Theism View
Gregory A. Boyd
The debate over the nature of God's foreknowledge is not primarily a
debate about the scope or perfection of God's knowledge. All Christians agree
that God is omniscient and therefore knows all of reality perfectly. The debate
over God's foreknowledge is rather a debate over the content of reality that
God perfectly knows. It has more to do with the doctrine of creation than it
does with the doctrine of God.
Although the other three views of divine foreknowledge represented in this
work disagree with one another on many points, they agree that the content of
reality, and therefore the content of God's infallible knowledge, is exhaustively
settled. These views agree that every detail of what shall transpire in creation
has been settled from all eternity. Hence God has always been as certain about
the future as he is about the past. In these views God knows possibilities only
as what might have been, never as what might be. He knows possibilities only
as having been forever excluded from reality, never as having been included
within reality. In other words, God eternally knows reality as one settled story
line in contrast to all other forever-excluded story lines. This perspective may
be called "the classical understanding of divine foreknowledge," though, as
I've suggested, it would be technically more accurate to refer to it as the "classical
understanding of creation."
The view I shall defend agrees unequivocally with the classical view that
God is omniscient, but it embraces a different understanding of creation. It
holds that the reality that God perfectly knows not only excludes some possibilities
as what might have been, but also includes other possibilities as what
might be. Reality, in other words, is composed of both settled and open
aspects. Since God knows all of reality perfectly, this view holds that he knows
the possible aspects as possible and knows the settled aspects as settled. In
this view, the sovereign Creator settles whatever he wants to settle about the
future, and hence he perfectly foreknows the future as settled to this extent. He
leaves open whatever he wants to leave open, and hence he perfectly foreknows
the future as possible to this extent. This view has recently been labeled
the "openness view of God," though, as with the classical view, it would be
technically more correct to refer to it as the "openness view of creation."
Since exegesis should always drive our philosophy, instead of the other way
around, and since this essay must be restricted in terms of its length, my
defense of the openness view shall be almost exclusively- along exegetical
lines. In part one, I shall demonstrate that while the Bible certainly celebrates
God's foreknowledge and control of the future, it does not warrant the conclusion
that the future is exhaustively controlled or foreknown as settled by God.
In part two, I shall discuss the biblical basis of the openness view of the future
by outlining six aspects of an important scriptural motif that depicts the future
as partly open and as known by God as such. And in part three, I shall defend
this view against five common objections.
Part One: The Biblical Foundation of the Classical Position
The Bible unequivocally celebrates God's foreknowledge and control of the
future. The theme is found most strongly in Isaiah. At a time when many Jews
were tempted to trust in pagan idols, the Lord demonstrated that he alone was
the sovereign Lord of history by declaring his ability to foretell the future:
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is no one like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done....
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass
I have planned, and I will do it. (Is 46:9-11)
Two chapters later we read an even more emphatic proclamation.
The former things I declared long ago,
they went out from my mouth and I made them known;
then suddenly I did them and they came to pass.
Because I know that you are obstinate,
and your neck is an iron sinew
and your forehead brass,
I declared them to you from long ago,
before they came to pass I announced them to you,
so that you would not say, "My idol did them,
my carved image and my cast image commanded them." (Is 48:3-5)
The Lord's ability to declare "from ancient times things not yet done" (Is
46:11) is demonstrated throughout Scripture. For example, the Lord predicted
that the Israelites would be in captivity in Egypt for four hundred years (Gen
15:13-15). He occasionally foretold the future destruction of nations and cities,
such as the city of Tyre (Ezek 26:7-21). Even more impressively, the Lord actually
named several individuals before they were born and foretold some of
their accomplishments (1 Kings 13:1-2; Is 45:1). Moreover, God foreknew that
Christ would be crucified by wicked people (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28; 1 Pet 1:20). He
also seems to have foretold a number of specific details about Christ's death:
that his side would be pierced (In 19:34-37) and he would be served vinegar
(Jn 19:28-29), for example. Indeed, Jesus himself knew that Judas would betray
him and that Peter would deny him three times (Mt 26:34; Jn 6:64, 70-71; 13:18-19;
cf. Jn 17:12).
These passages clearly exalt God as the sovereign Lord of history. This
scriptural motif reassures believers that however out of control the world may
seem, the Lord is steering history toward his desired end. His overall purposes
for creation cannot fail, and his eternal purpose for our lives is secure (e.g., Job
42:2; Is 14:27; Rom 8:28; Eph 1:11). This motif clearly entails that much of the
future is settled ahead of time and is therefore known by God as such. Indeed,
it clearly demonstrates that God can settle whatever he wants to settle about
the future: "The former things I declared long ago; ... then suddenly I did
them and they came to pass" (Is 48:3).
But does this motif entail that the future is exhaustively settled and known
by God as such? I would answer yes to this question if this motif constituted
everything relevant to God's relationship to the future in Scripture. But as we
shall see in part two, this motif hardly exhausts the relevant biblical material. In
order to account for other biblical material that depicts the future as partly
open, I will now show that the above biblical evidence, cited in support of the
classical position, does not require the conclusion that the future is exhaustively
Declaring the end from the beginning.
Isaiah 46:9-11. One could argue that Isaiah 46:9-11 comes closest to suggesting
that the future is exhaustively settled. God describes himself as "declaring
the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done" (v.
10). Yet does this passage teach or imply that everything about the future is
settled in God's mind? Two observations suggest that it does not.
First, neither this nor any other passage in Scripture says that God foreknows
or declares everything that is going to occur. This passage specifies that
God declares "the end from the beginning" and "from ancient times things not
yet done." God declares the conclusion of certain processes from their inception,
and God declares certain things not yet done before they occur. But the
passage doesn't teach or logically imply that everything leading up to the conclusion
is declared, or foreknown, nor does it imply that God declares all
things "from ancient times."
Second, it's important to notice how the context of the passage qualifies its
claims. Immediately after telling us that he declares "from ancient times things
not yet done," the Lord adds, "My purpose shall stand, and I will fulfill my
intention" (v. 10). This implies that the Lord is not simply declaring information
about the future that he happens to possess. He knows "the end" of the process
at "the beginning" and can declare aspects of the future "from ancient
times" because he has predetermined this much of the future. He knows his
own purpose and intention to steer history in this fashion.
This point is emphasized when the Lord goes on to say, "I have spoken, and
I will bring it to pass; I have planned, and I will do it" (v. 11). Verse 10 specifies
"the end" and the "things" that the Lord declares ahead of time. It teaches us that
the future is settled to the extent that the Lord has decided to settle it. But the
verse does not teach or imply that the Lord will bring everything about the future
to pass and, thus, that the Lord foreknows all that will come to pass. Indeed, if
everything came to pass according to the Lord's will, it seems odd that he would
need to overcome the Israelites' obstinacy with these assertions about particular
things in the future he intends to bring about. If the Lord controlled everything,
the stubbornness of the Israelites itself would be the Lord's doing.
Isaiah 48:3-5. The same observation applies to Isaiah 48:3-5. The Lord says,
"The former things I declared long ago; ... then suddenly I did them" (v. 3). The
Lord does this because he did not want Israelites saying, "My idol did them" (v.
5). In other words, Yahweh proclaimed and then demonstrated his sovereign
ability to bring about events as a supernatural means of confronting the lie that
idols have the power to bring about events. Again, this is not simply a matter of
the Lord's possessing information about what is going to take place. It is, rather,
a matter of the Lord's determining what is going to take place and telling his
people ahead of time. The passage does not teach or imply that the Lord determines
and thus foreknows every event that shall come to pass.
Foreknown details and the openness of creation. Given the particular
examples where the Lord decrees that certain things shall come to pass, must
one conclude that the future is exhaustively settled in God's mind? I shall
briefly consider three examples to illustrate why I believe the answer to this
question is no.
The coherence of a partially open future. The Lord prophesied that Israel
would be in captivity to Egypt for four centuries long before this captivity
became a fact (Gen 15:13). This is a spectacular demonstration of the Lord's
sovereign control of the future. But is it evidence that the future is exhaustively
settled? Not at all. It only implies that some of the future is settled. People tend
to assume that if some of the future is settled, all of it must be settled. The idea
of a partially settled future strikes them as implausible, if not incoherent. This
is one reason they tend to misinterpret biblical evidence of a partly settled
future as evidence of an exhaustively settled future. A closer examination,
however, reveals that the notion of a partly settled future perspective is both
coherent and plausible.
First, the coherence of the view that the future is partly open and partly settled
is demonstrated whenever we deliberate about a decision, for in every act
of deliberation we presuppose that the future is partly up to us to decide and
partly decided for us. For example, suppose I am deliberating about whether
or not to purchase a new edition of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason tomorrow.
My act of deliberation presupposes that it lies within my power either to purchase
this book or to not. It illustrates my conviction that at least this much of
my future is up to me to decide. But my deliberation also presupposes that
much of the future is not up to me to decide. I couldn't deliberate about this
particular purchase if it were up to me to decide whether, say, the bookstore
would exist or whether money would have any value tomorrow.
In other words, to deliberate about any particular matter, we must be freed
from deliberating about every matter. Our sense of freedom presupposes that
much of the future is already settled. Our freedom must always take place within
the parameters of things we do not choose. We have no choice but to live as
though some things are up to us to resolve and some things are not. In short, we
live as though the future is partly settled and partly open. The openness view of
the future simply roots this "as though" in really and renders it intelligible. Of
the four views considered in this book, it is the only view that can claim this.
Second, this view of reality is being explored and confirmed in many
branches of contemporary science, a fact that further confirms the coherence
and plausibility of the openness view. For example, contemporary physics has
demonstrated that we can accurately predict the general behavior of a group of
quantum particles but that we cannot in principle predict the exact behavior of
any individual particle. Indeed, the regularity, of the phenomenological
worlddespite quantum indeterminacyis the manifestation of this statistical
regularity. The phenomenological world is settled, though the world of quantum
particles is somewhat open.
Similarly, chaos theory has recently demonstrated that all predictable
aspects of reality incorporate unpredictable aspects and vice versa. Moreover,
social scientists, anthropologists and biologists have demonstrated that the
behavior of groups of humans, animals and even insects is much more predictable
than the behavior of the individuals. A colony of ants behaves in remarkably
predictable ways, for example, even though the behavior of any particular
ant is much more difficult to predict.
Our own experience and recent scientific developments demonstrate that
the view of creation as partly settled and partly open is both coherent and
plausible. Hence, there should be no difficulty conceiving how God could
determine and foreknow that a particular event was going to take place (e.g.,
the Egyptian captivity) without determining or foreknowing every detail surrounding
this event (e.g., every future individual decision). The classical jump
from evidence for some of the future being settled to the conclusion that all of
the future must be settled is unwarranted.
Prophecies against cities. Many of the fulfilled prophecies against nations or
cities in Scripture can be explained this way. God can decree that a nation or
city shall be judged without his ordaining or eternally foreknowing every
future decision throughout all of history. Indeed, Scripture makes it clear that
the sovereign Lord is always involved in setting the scope and duration of
nations (Acts 17:26). But it doesn't teach that God determines or foreknows as
settled all the decisions of all the individuals within these nations. Indeed, Paul
tells us that God establishes these national parameters with the hope "that they
[the nations] would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him"
(Acts 17:27). Within the parameters settled by God, there is an unsettled future,
a "perhaps." God determines whatever he sees fit and leaves as much of the
future open as he sees fit.
Foreknown individuals and the openness of the future.
The names and activity of Josiah and Cyrus. As a sign to his people, God
named Josiah ("the Lord strengthens") and Cyrus and declared some of their
accomplishments before they were born (1 Kings 13:1-2; Is 45:1). These
decrees obviously established parameters around the parents' freedom to naming
these individuals (cf. Lk 1:18-22, 59-64) and also restricted the scope of
freedom these individuals could exercise regarding particular foreordained
activities. But in other respects these two individuals and their parents
remained self-determining agents. To conclude from these two examples that
God has settled the names and activities of all people from eternity is unwarranted.
These examples certainly show that Yahweh is the sovereign Lord of
history, and can predetermine and thus foreknow whatever he pleases. But
they do not justify the conclusion that he desires to predetermine or foreknow
the whole of the future.
Peter's denial. Future actions might also be settled not only because the
Lord has decided them beforehand, but also because a person's character settles
them. As we all know, character becomes more predictable over time. The
longer we persist in a chosen path, the more that path becomes part of who
we are. Hence, generally speaking, the range of viable options we are capable
of diminishes over time. Our omniscient Creator is able to predict our behavior
far more extensively than we could predict it ourselves because he knows
us far better than we know ourselves (Ps 44:21; 139:1-6). This does not mean
that our every move is predictable, for our present character doesn't exhaustively
determine our future behavior. But it does mean that our future behavior
is predictable to the extent that our present character is solidified.
A familiar example of this is when the Lord tells Peter he will deny him
three times before morning (Mt 26:34). We don't need to suppose that the
future is exhaustively settled in God's mind to explain this prediction. We only
need to believe that God the Father knew and revealed to Jesus one solidified
aspect of Peter's character that was predictable in the immediate future. Anyone
who knew Peter's character perfectly could have predicted that under certain
highly pressured circumstances (which God could easily orchestrate, if he
needed to), Peter would act the way he did.
One of the central points of this divinely orchestrated lesson was exposing
the superficiality of Peter's characteristic boldness. Peter had just made the
(typically) proud claim to Jesus, "I will never desert you.... Even though I
must die with you, I will not deny you" (Mt 26:33, 35). Jesus told him of his
denial at this point in order to help Peter eventually realize just how deluded
he was about his own character as well as about the character of the Messiah.
Like most Jews of his time, Peter believed that the Messiah would be a military
leader who would not suffer but rather would vanquish his enemies. This
explains why Peter opposed Jesus' teaching about the need for his sacrificial
suffering (e.g., Mt 16:21-23). It also explains why Peter appeared so courageous
when Jesus was performing miracles but became cowardly after Jesus'
arrest. His false expectations of what Jesus was going to accomplish were shattered.
God of course saw through Peter's misplaced boldness and knew the effect
Jesus' arrest would have on him. God used his knowledge to teach Peterwho
would become a pillar of the churchan invaluable lesson about love and servant
leadership. We do not know how much, if any, supernatural intervention
was behind the events of that evening. But the outcome was just as God anticipated.
Three times Peter's true character was squeezed out of him so that,
after the resurrection, Christ could squeeze his character into him three times.
It is no coincidence that three times the resurrected Jesus asked Peter, "Do you
love me?" After each of these three refrains Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep
and concluded with a prophecy that Peter would die a martyr's death, just as
he had (Jn 21:15-19). Peter would never again identify leadership with military
victory. For in the kingdom of God, leadership is about laying down one's life
and feeding the Lord's sheep, about knowing the meaning of love (Lk 22:24-27;
cf. Eph 5:25-27). It was a lesson Peter had to learn and live if he was to
become everything God wanted him to be in the church and for the world.
In any event, we are clearly going beyond the evidence if we conclude that
the future is exhaustively settled from all eternity on the grounds that Jesus
predicted what Peter would do in the next twelve hours. The only conclusions
justified by this episode are that God possesses perfect knowledge of the past and
present and that some of the future is settled, either by present circumstances
(Peter's character) or by God's sovereign design.
Judas's betrayal. Scripture says that Jesus knew "from the first" that Judas
would betray him (Jn 6:64). This phrase (ex arche) does not imply that Jesus
knew who would betray him from a time before the person decided, in his
heart, to betray him (let alone that he knew from all eternity, as the classical
view of foreknowledge requires). It can more plausibly be taken to mean that
Jesus knew who would betray him early on (cf. Phil 4:15), either from the
moment this person resolved it in his heart to betray him or from the time
Jesus chose him to be a disciple.
Jesus tells us that Judas fulfilled Scripture, not that Judas was the individual
who had to fulfill Scripture. Judas could have and should have chosen a different
path for his life than the one he chose. But, as a free moral agent, Judas
tragically chose a path of self-interest and ultimately self-destruction (Jn
17:12). If his choices had been more godly, he would not have been a candidate
for fulfilling the prophecy of the Lord's betrayal. In this case the Lord
would have found someone else to fill this role.
In my view, this is how we should understand the wicked activity of all the
individuals who played foreordained roles in the death of Jesus: for example,
the rulers who had Jesus crucified (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28), the soldier who pierced
his side (Jn 19:34-37) and the soldier who gave Jesus vinegar (Jn 19:28-29). As
seen in its references to Judas, Scripture never suggests that these specific individuals
were destined or foreknown to carry out these wicked deeds. It only
teaches that these specific deeds were destined and foreknown to take place.
Saying that someone carried out a predestined or foreknown wicked event is
much different from saying that someone was predestined or foreknown to
carry out a wicked event. Scripture affirms the former but not the latter. These
passages only require us to believe that, when he so chooses, God can narrow
the parameters within which certain people act out their freely chosen character.
Again, we are outrunning the evidence if we conclude that everything about
creation is eternally and exhaustively settled based on these examples. We
might be justified in going beyond the evidence in this fashion if this were all
the evidence we had. If we did not have any scriptural evidence of the future's
being open at least in part, then we could perhaps justifiably argue that the
above evidencewhich suggests that some of the future is settledsupports
the conclusion that the future is exhaustively settled. As we shall now see,
however, this is not at all the case.
Part Two: Scripture and the Openness of Creation
Alongside the scriptural motif that celebrates God's control and knowledge of
the settled aspects of creation is another, rarely appreciated motif that celebrates
God's creative flexibility in responding to open aspects of his creation.
In this motif, God asks questions about the future, speaks of the future in conditional
terms, regrets the outcome of decisions he has made, changes his
mind in response to changing situations, and so on. I call this "the motif of
future openness," and it pervades Scripture at least as thoroughly as the first
motif, as I shall briefly demonstrate.