Can the god of open theism make mistakes?

Open theism, also known as the Open view, teaches that God learns, that He gains knowledge as He discovers what people decide to do.  They teach this because they believe that God does not know the future. Therefore God learns what happens as things occur. Unfortunately, the logical problem is that God could then make mistakes. Just as we make mistakes because we do not know what will happen, so too the God of open theism can also error. He could make a prediction that could fail. He might expect someone to repent who does not. He might believe that one thing will happen and yet it fails to occur. These would be mistakes on God's part.

Open theists, however, do not like the idea of saying that the God of the universe makes mistakes either in His sovereign predictions or in His expectations. But the fact is, due to the doctrinal makeup of the open theists position, God cannot know future events and therefore cannot absolutely predict all events with 100% assurance.  At best, the open theist could say that God is an extremely efficient predictor in that He knows people and phenomenon so well that He can extrapolate what the outcome of various situations will be. Even if this is true, it still means that God's knowledge of the future is not exhaustive.  The God of Open theism, the God of open View theology, can then make mistakes.

This is admitted to by a well-known open theists author named John Sanders in his book, The God who Risks, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998, pages 132-133. Please consider the following quote which is a bit lengthy, but necessary in order to provide proper context.  I have bolded the statements of particular interest.

"A third way of explaining some predictions according to presentism is to see them as statements about what will happen based on God's exhaustive knowledge of the past and present. In other words, given the depth and breadth of God's knowledge of the present situation, God forecasts what he thinks will happen. In this regard God is the consummate social scientist predicting what will happen. God's ability to predict the future in this way is far more accurate than any human forecasters, however, since God has exhaustive access to all past and present knowledge. This would explain God's foretelling Moses that Pharoah would refuse to grant his request. Nonetheless, this does leave open the possibility that God might be "mistaken" about some points, as the biblical record acknowledges. For instance, in Exodus God thought that the elders of Israel would believe Moses, but God acknowledges that Moses is correct in suggesting the possibility that they may not believe him (Exodus 3:16-4:9). God also thought the people of Jeremiah's day would repent and return to him, but they did not, to God's dismay (Jer. 3:7, 19-20).
The notion that God could be dismayed or wrong about anything may not sit well with some people, so perhaps some qualifications may be helpful. First, what is meant by the word mistake? Strictly speaking, God would make a mistake if you declared infallibly that something would come to pass and it did not. God would never be mistaken so long as he never said that X (for example, Adam will not sin) would infallibly come to pass and did not. Using the term more or loosely, we might say that God would be mistaken if you believe that X would happen (for example, Israel in Jeremiah's day would come to love him) and, in fact, X does not come about. In this sense the Bible does attribute some mistakes to God.
Finally, even if we affirm that God is sometimes "mistaken" in the sense that God believe that something would happen when, in fact, it does not come about, there is a question as to how often this happens. The biblical record gives a few occasions, but we are in no position to judge just how many times this occurs with God."

As you can see, John Sanders, one of the greatest proponents of open theism, advocates the idea that God can make mistakes. We grant that not all open theists may agree with Mr. Sanders. But the fact is that one of the leading supporters of this view affirms the teaching. The reason is because it is a logical outcome of the position that God does not know all things.  Remember, if God does not know all things, then He can mistakenly hope one thing will occur and discover that it won't.
What are the ramifications of such a position?  Very simple.  It casts doubt on such a God who can make mistakes.  Is such a God trustworthy?  Is God who is supposed to be holy, righteous, and perfect in all his ways, capable of making mistakes?  Is this someone that you should trust with the awesome responsibility of saving your soul? Apparently, John Sanders believe so and teaches that God goofs.

We see no value, no security in looking to a God who is described as being limited to the knowledge of the present and who makes mistakes in His hopes and expectations. Such a God must learn, grow in knowledge, can be affected by what we do, and must change according to the "free will" choices of his creation.
I ask the reader: Do you find comfort in the notion that God makes mistakes because He doesn't know all things that are going to happen and He has to wait and see what will come to pass so He can adapt His plans and strategies accordingly?   I don't.

If God is ignorant of certain things, then He does know know all things and His understanding is not infinite.  But, the Bible speaks against such error:

  • "in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart, and knows all things," (1 John 3:20).
  • "Great is our Lord, and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite," (Ps. 147:5).

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.