by Matt Slick
On Dec. 1, 2017 I debated will Duffy in the Denver Colorado area. The topic of the debate was "Is Open Theism a Proper Representation of the God of Scripture?" Since Mr. Duffy took the affirmative, he opened and the following is my prepared statement that I read. When I read it here in my office I was able to recite it in 14 minutes. But for some reason when I was reading it live I knew was gonna take longer, perhaps because I was trying to emphasize certain parts by making sure I spoke slowly and clearly. Nevertheless I did not read every word of this opening statement. But this is what I had prepared.
Is Open Theism a Proper Representation of the God of Scripture?"
The topic of tonight’s debate is “Is Open Theism a Proper Representation of the God of Scripture?" The answer is no. In fact, in contradiction to Scripture, open theism presents a faulty view of God including such things as…
- God does not know the future exhaustively
- God takes risks
- God can make mistakes
- God learns
- God changes his mind
- And in the view of my opponent, God has the capability of sinning.
Such things are more in line with Mormonism, than the God of Scripture.
In open theism, God does not know everything that is going to happen. Therefore, in his written debate with Pastor Jaltus in 2008, Mr. Duffy affirms that there is, “no existing exhaustive account of everything that will happen.” Without this principle, open theism fails. But, nothing in the Bible states that God does is ignorant of the future. In fact, if anything, we see statements to the contrary.
- Psalm 139:16, "Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written, the days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them."
- Job 14:4–5, "Who can make the clean out of the unclean? No one! 5 Since his days are determined, the number of his months is with You; And his limits You have set so that he cannot pass."
- Daniel 9:24, "Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place."
Scripture contradicts the basic premise of open theism.
To continue, Mr. Duffy said, “God cannot exhaustively know the future free will choices of people. If He did, then they are not free.” Let me show you why this foundational premise in open theism is not true.
A choice is free if it is not coerced or caused by an external influence. So, let’s say that God knows which shirt I am going to choose to wear tomorrow. But, His knowledge of my choice ahead of time is descriptive, not causative. They are different. Foreknowledge is not the same thing as causation any more than my knowing the sun will rise tomorrow causes it to happen. God’s knowing which shirt I will wear tomorrow is not a causative force. Descriptive foreknowledge is not the same thing as a force that causes a choice to occur or not occur. To retain his foundational premise, Mr. Duffy will have to logically demonstrate that a descriptive foreknowledge also has a causal effect that forces me to choose a shirt I don’t want to choose tomorrow, thereby denying my free will. To say that God’s foreknowledge exerts a causal or restrictive effect upon my choice is an error of logic. Therefore, God can know the future free will choices of his people exhaustively and at the same time not restrict their free will.
In this, a foundational principle of open theism is shown to be wrong. But wait, there’s more…
In open theism, God can make mistakes.
In an email to me Mr. Duffy said, “I won't say God makes mistakes, but God can expect something and it does not happen.” Well, expecting something to happen and getting it wrong is exactly what a mistake is. The God of Scripture doesn’t make mistakes. He doesn’t goof. He doesn’t slap his celestial forehead and say “oops.”
Psalm 147:5, "Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite (both NASB and KJV say “infinite”).
Now, Mr. Duffy told me in an email that he agrees 100% with the Open Theism Debate between Larry Bray and Bob Enyart. He said that I could quote anything said by Bob in that debate as representing him. Okay, then here is a quote:
“If God knows more today than He knew yesterday, is He a more perfect God today. “Yes.”
That is an amazing statement as well as a logical problem that arises out of open theism’s faulty view of God.
If something is perfect, it cannot become more perfect, otherwise it is not perfect to begin with. A perfect square cannot be more perfect by being more square. Logically, if God is already perfect, He doesn’t become more perfect by learning something – unless, as open theism implies, God is less than perfect now. Once again, this concept of god in Open Theism reminds me of the concept of the god of Mormonism who is increasing in knowledge and growing in perfection.
In fact, this brings up something else that most distressing which is also reminiscent of the god of Mormonism regarding God’s capacity to sin. I quote again from the debate between Larry Bray and Bob Enyart with which Mr. Duffy agrees completely.
“A stump is not free to sin. God is. Jesus is praiseworthy because HE WOULD NOT submit to temptation, not that HE COULD NOT.” [emphasis original]
Wow, so Mr. Duffy believes that in concert with his open theism, God has the capacity to sin.
Now, his profound theological error demonstrates the weakness of his open theism as well as an ignorance of two important biblical doctrines: the holy nature of God and the incarnation of Christ. First of all, Heb. 6:18 says that “it is impossible for God to lie.” The impossibility is the result of God’s holy nature – not an attitude. But, since Mr. Duffy agrees that God is capable of sinning, then we must conclude that Mr. Duffy views God’s nature as less than perfect and also not completely holy. Instead, his view means that God is progressing, learning, adapting, and being perfected. This is, incidentally, exactly what Mormonism teaches.
The second error revealed in the above quote deals with the incarnation of Christ and what is called the Communicatio Idiomatum, or “the communication of the properties.” This doctrine states that the attributes of both the divine and human natures of Christ are ascribed to Him as a single person. So, we see Jesus saying such human things as, “I am hungry,” and “I am thirsty.” But we also see him say divine things such as, “…Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was,” (John 17:5). So, the divine attributes as well as human attributes are ascribed to the single person of Jesus. Now, God is holy (1 Pet. 1:16) and God cannot divest himself of his own holiness because he cannot deny himself (2 Tim. 2:13). And, since we know that it is impossible for God to lie, it is logically necessary to state that Christ also possesses this divine attribute of holiness in his personhood. This means he could not have lied then, any more than he could lie now. He could not have sinned then and he cannot sin now.
But then, some may ask how could he be tempted? The answer lies in understanding that there is a difference between an external temptation and an internal one. For example, I have no interest in watching sports. Someone could tempt me to go to the Super Bowl instead of going on a date with my wife. This would be an external temptation. But internally, I am not tempted. So, someone could tempt Christ externally, but he would not be tempted internally due to his holy divinity.
FIGURES OF SPEECH
Now, time does not permit me to examine other errors committed by Mr. Duffy in support of his open theism. So, let me turn my attention to the Scriptural issues that open theists often use to support their position where God appears to repent, change his mind, and learns.
Quite simply, these are all figures of speech.
Dictionary.com says, “A figure of speech is a word or phrase that has a meaning other than the literal meaning.” Therefore, his repenting, changing his mind, and learning are figures of speech.
In relation to this, I quote again from the debate between Larry Bray and Bob Enyart with which Mr. Duffy agrees completely.
“An ACTION cannot be a figure of speech.”
That is unfortunate, because he is wrong.
- Psalm 98:8, “Let the rivers clap their hands. Let the mountains sing together for joy.”
- Psalm 114:4, "The mountains skipped like rams…”
- Ezekiel 3:23, "So I got up and went out to the plain; and behold, the glory of the Lord was standing there…”
- Ezekiel 37:1, "The hand of the Lord was upon me…”
- Psalm 79:6 is says, "Pour out Your wrath upon the nations which do not know You…”
Obviously, actions can be figures of speech, even when they apply to some of God’s actions.
In Genesis 6:6 the Lord was sorry that he made man. It does not mean that God was surprised or made a mistake. Remember, Psalm 147:5 says that God’s “understanding is infinite.” You don’t make mistakes if your understanding is infinite. Gen. 6:6 tells us that the Lord was grieved and felt sorrow. Why? Because mankind had fallen into great sin. God knew they would sin and also be grieved when they committed their sins. This is the same for us who know ahead of time that our children will sin. Knowing they will rebel in advance does not mean we were surprised or made a mistake or can’t be grieved when they sin.
In Gen. 22:12 when Abraham lifted up his knife to kill Isaac and God said “for now I know that you fear God,” we can confidently say that God already knew the intent of Abraham’s heart because 1 Chron. 28:9 says, “the Lord searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts.” God did not need to learn what was in Abraham’s heart. He already knew even as Heb. 11:19 says that Abraham knew God was able to raise the dead and that he would receive Isaac back. So, why did God say this? It is because he was speaking figuratively. Furthermore, why then the almost-sacrifice of Isaac? It was a representation of Christ’s sacrifice. Both Isaac and Jesus are called the only-begotten. Both carried wood on their backs to the hill where they were offered. Both took a donkey to the place of sacrifice. There was a ram caught in a thicket of thorns and Jesus bore a crown of thorns. There are more parallels, but these will suffice for now. Jesus said that Abraham rejoiced to see his day, saw it, and was glad (John 8:56). So, the account of Abraham is not for the purpose of God learning and figuring things out. Instead, it is a detailed prefiguring of the sacrifice of Christ.
In Exodus 32:14 God changed his mind about destroying the people after Moses interceded. Open theists will say that the plain reading of Scripture requires that we understand God either made a mistake, made a false prophecy, or had to adapt to the situation. But that is problematic. 1 Samuel 15:29 says that, "the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind.” In, Numbers 23:19 it says, that “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent…"
Do we throw our hands in the air and say that the Bible contradicts itself? If so, then how can we trust anything in the Scripture including God’s promise to never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5) or justify us by faith (Romans 5:1) or that Satan won’t somehow become victorious in the future?
No. Instead, we harmonize the word of God and we do not set Scripture against Scripture. These figures of speech are where God changes his mind in relation to the changing human situation as is experienced by people through whom God works. In other words, God is speaking in terms we understand in reference to our time frame. It was only after God told Moses (who was a type of Christ) what He wanted to do, that Moses interceded and the wrath of God was abated. Since God knows the hearts of all people exhaustively (1 Chron. 28:9) and his understanding is infinite (Psalm 147:5), God knew Moses’ love for the people and that he would intercede, providing the opportunity for God to show his mercy and to ultimately demonstrate a Christological aspect of intercession that was yet future.
In Jeremiah 19:5, God says that it did not enter His mind that the Jews would sacrifice their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal.
But in actuality, God had earlier warned the Israelites many years earlier not to burn their children in the fire.
- Deuteronomy 12:31, "You shall not behave thus toward the Lord your God, for every abominable act which the Lord hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods."
- Deuteronomy 18:10, "There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire…"
So, in this figure of speech dealing with the concept not entering God’s mind, we can understand that God was saying He did not want them do it and it was not part of His plan for them. Yet, we know that he was fully aware of these atrocities which is why he warned Israel not to commit them.
Let me draw to a conclusion here by referring to Scripture.
- Psalm 139:4 says that God knows all the words we are going to speak before we speak them.
- Psalm 33:15 says God understands all of mans’ works
- Psalm 139:6 says that God has ordained all of our days before they happen.
- Psalm 147:5 says God’s understanding is infinite
- Isaiah 46:10 says that God will accomplish all His good pleasure
- Heb. 6:17 says His purpose is unchangeable.
I believe open theism is a heretical teaching based on illogical and unbiblical philosophical assumptions imposed upon Scripture. Considering the debates that Mr. Duffy has been in and supports, his view of God results in a false presentation where the Almighty is limited to the created order, must learn, can make mistakes, has the potential to sin, is fallible, is not all knowing, does not know the past exhaustively, is not everywhere, and cannot know for certain what we are going to choose. Such attributes leave little room for confidence in such a being who grows in perfection and increases in wisdom, much like the god of Mormonism.