Dialogue with an open theist

by Matt Slick

This dialogue occurred in private text on paltalk.com.  I extracted out of it the portion dealing with Open Theism about one-third the way through our conversation.  I used a speech recognition program which explains the larger than normal paragraphs.  In other words, all I had to do was speak instead of type.  It is great.   
OVT means "Open View Theology."

Matt: You are the open theists, correct?
Sam: Yes.  Maybe.
Matt: ........Don't fall to far.
Sam: I guess I could give you the first question to help me discover what I truly believe. Meaning, you ask the question.  LOL
Matt: I don't understand.
Sam: Well, what is the one thing that separates heretical OVTs [Open View Theists] from Christians?
Matt: You tell me.
Sam: LOL. Figured. Ok, here goes.  Heretical OVTs deny the omnipotence of God to be able to effect his will perfectly.  They say God has no control.  When in fact, scripture says He does.  What do you think?
Matt: The heresy is that the knowledge of God is lessened.  This is a change in God's nature.  The nature of God is omnipresence.  Necessarily, omnipresence necessitates omniscience.
Sam: I agree.
Matt: What the open theists do, in error, is to restrict God to the present.  They thereby state that God is restricted to the created nature of time itself.  They define God to be in subjection to creation, or, they define God as possessing the attribute of linear time, a sequential occurrence to all eternity.  But this is impossible because an infinite amount of time cannot be crossed in order to get to the present.  If time is a part of God's nature, and God is eternal, then we have an infinite amount of time in the past.  But that is so we can never arrive at the present because to transverse an infinite amount of time means that it is not infinite to begin with.  Therefore, to say that God's nature includes some aspect of time within it by which He is somehow linear, and therefore restricted to the present, and not able to know the future exhaustively, because it has not yet happened, is to subject God to his own creation.  This is a problem.
Sam: ...or are we adding to God a paradox when we say He is IN the past, present, and future? Like saying God can sin since He is able to do all things. Are we in a sense, making TIME an attribute of God? (when science says it is an attribute of matter).
Matt: God is not in the past, present, and future [as in panentheism]. Time is a creation of God.  He's sovereign over it.
Sam: I agree.
Matt: He is not limited by it.  He is beyond it.  It could be said that He is in the past, present, and future, but it can also be said that He is not in them. God is independent of its creation.  Time is part of the created order.  God is independent of time and not subject to it.  The open theists error in denying God's omniscience. That is, they deny that He knows all things exhaustively.  They either say that He does not know the future because the future does not exist, which I have already discussed, or they say that God looks into the future to choose that which He will not know.  But this is also very illogical, since God would then have to look into the future and know the future in order to not know the future - which is ridiculous and self-contradictory.  Furthermore, to say that He would not know the future because He knows what part of it he does not know, would furthermore be a difficulty because if He does not know what color shirt I will wear tomorrow because He does not want to violate my free will by knowing ahead of time what I am going to wear, yet He is able to know the future... but chooses simply not to, then how can He know anything in the future since to know what I might do tomorrow, like what kind of lunch I will tomorrow, would necessitate him seeing me eat my lunch in the shirt I am to be wearing.  Therefore, it would be impossible for him to know anything about anything in the future if, as the open theists says, God restricts his own knowledge of the future in order not to violate our free will. The open theists lessen God's nature by essentially denying his omnipresence, and/or stating that He is limited to the present. This is absolutely and definitely a reduction in the quality, nature, and majesty of God.  It is a bedrock for further heresy.  And only time will tell what sort of depraved and twisted lies will come out of that fertile ground of heresy.
Sam: Here's a simple analogy.  Perhaps it may help.  For I too am trying to understand this and make up my mind. Is it right to assume the future is something that can not be known to a timeless God - much like sin can not be known by a righteousness God?
Matt: You just committed the fallacy of equivocation.
Sam: Explain.
Matt: In your first statement you use the word "known" in the sense of God's intellectual knowledge of something. You used the same word in the second sentence in reference to experience.  In other words, you change the meaning of the same word in the construction that you used. It is a confusion.  God knows all things exhaustively. This is something that occurs in his mind. But God can also be said to know sin in that sense, though He does not know that in the sense of experiencing it.
Sam: Well, 'known' in that analogy is defined the same way as "experientially"- God can not experience sin because He can not sin. God can not experience the future because He is not in the future.
Matt: I see what you're saying. How do you know that God is not in the future? Are you saying that God is limited by time and that He is restricted to the present?  Is not time a created thing from God? If so, how is it that He is limited by his own creation?
Sam: That question begs another: Is the future something to be restricted from?
Matt: If time is not part of his creation, but is part of him, then, as I said earlier, how was it that we arrive at the present since God would be infinitely old and we cannot transverse an infinite amount of time?
Sam: Correct matt. But here's something we may need to add to our understanding of time: Time had a beginning.  Well, creation did.  The universe. So there is no infinite regression.
Matt: Yes, therefore, time is not a part of God's nature, correct?
Sam: Correct.  Not part of his nature.
Matt: Therefore, time is a created thing, right?
Sam: That is a good question.  Is time created... Hmmm.
Matt: If time is something that is created by God, He is not limited by it. If God cannot know the future, then does it not follow logically that God is limited by time, the very thing He created? And that would not be true... correct?
Sam: Your logic is very understandable.  What if time was not created by God, but was a byproduct of his creation of matter?
Matt: Actually, from what I understand about physics, that is correct, that time is a byproduct of matter.  Matter exists, and we name this concept of duration as "time."  But still, if the property of matter, or the byproduct of matter, is time, a linear progression of events, then is God restricted to this linear progression of events?
Sam: I can get to the meat of how I think this works?
Matt: If you were to say yes, then we have God being subject to a linear sequence of events? This would mean then that God is subject to time, which He cannot be.
Sam: God is not restricted to his creation, I agree.
Matt: Is God restricted to the byproducts of his creation?  Or restricted by them?
Sam: No, not at all.
Matt: Then time is not something that has any hold or restriction upon God, correct?
Sam: Yes, correct.
Matt: Correct, then open theism is wrong and God must know all things exhaustively because He is not limited to the present, but exists, so to speak, in the future.  The future is simply a concept that we apply to that which has not yet happened.
Sam: Well, put it this way: If time does not exist, then how can God know the future?
Matt: But since God is not restricted to what we call time, or the byproduct of matter, then that which we call the future is already where God is.
Matt: Time does exist. Even God makes prophecies which are proclamations of the future. Therefore, it exists.
Sam: Yes good point. I've thought about that too.
Matt: Good.  But do you see that what open theism is essentially doing is subjecting God to the created order.  It is a lessening of the majesty, sovereignty, and even the very nature God. This has a great potential for great error. I've always said, that if you want to mess something up, all you need is two things: People and time.
Sam: LOL.  But, I couldn't help but still see it through the glasses of if timelessness is all there is, then the future is merely the will of God in effect in the present.
Matt: Timelessness is not all there is.  Time exists, God exists, we exist.
Sam: True.  We had a 'beginning'.
Matt: God speaks of the past, the present, and the future. He declares the future.  He is obviously not restricted by it.  God is in all places at all times.
Sam: But here is something that I think is a great question brought up from your point of view.  Is God in the past? Can our prayers effect the past?
Matt: That is a question that, I think, would better be answered by those of far greater intelligence than myself.
Sam: I mean, here's another related question.
Matt: There is a paradox between God's omniscience and as James 5:16 says, our ability to avail much with God in prayer.
Sam: Can our prayers effect the future? (I would say that our prayers only effect the present, what God does now)
Matt: How can God who knows all things from all time, be affected by our prayer? I don't know. But it would seem that our prayers can affect the future, since we can ask that someone becomes saved, or that sins be forgiven, or that a person become healed, etc.  We often asked God to do things and those things we ask are often, by definition, in the future.
Sam: Well yes.  Matt, our prayer is relational.  God is looking for someone to relate to.
Matt: God does not need anyone to relate to.  To say that God had a need would be to imply He had a limit or an insufficiency of some sort.
Sam: I meant that our prayers for the future are guided by a God who works in the present to effect that future, which eventually becomes the next present.
Sam: Not need to relate, just looking for.
Matt: To say that He is looking for someone to relate to might be more accurate, but I think that He is desiring fellowship with us because the nature of love is other centered. Since God is love, and since He desires the best for others, then I think it is best for us to have fellowship with him and since He loves us, His desire is for us.
Sam: Like He choose to bless Abram for the sake of choosing him.
Matt: God does things out the kind intention of his will for His purpose, according to His glory.
Sam: I agree.  Matt, what I believe is this:
Matt: One of the best things I ever learned in seminary was when a professor went to the board and wrote: "There is a God. You are not Him." That taught me a great deal. God is the one in control in God's ways are above mine. I must seek to do his will and submit to his desires... even if I don't like them and even if I don't understand them. What I like or don't like is irrelevant...when dealing with the sovereignty and glory of God. May He receive all the glory.

Sam: Amen.  All the glory.  I believe that God knows the future, not because of his presence in that future; but because He knows everything in the present so perfectly, that there is no random chance, no choice that is made without him knowing it in advance based on his infinite wisdom. I believe his knowledge of future events is based on his infinite wisdom, AND omnipotence to effect the future according to his will.  That is where I come from. I am not sure if that is OVT.
Matt: In other words, you are saying that God is a very good guesser.

Sam: No, a Master Planner.
Matt: On the contrary, a guesser.

Sam: On the contrary.
Matt: If He does not know exactly what will happen, then He must guess, He must extrapolate.

Sam: Extrapolate.  Use his wisdom and his omnipotence.
Matt: If on the other hand you are saying He knows the future exhaustively because He knows the present exhaustively and can extrapolate perfectly, then, by definition, He knows the future exhaustively... doesn't he?

Sam: Yes!  LOL.
Matt: Then, OpenView theism is incorrect, isn't it? Because it teaches that God does not know the future exhaustively.

Sam: Correct Matt.  The one thing heretical OVTS do is this: They deny the omnipotence of God to make his knowledge perfect.
Matt: See? They lessen God's nature.

Sam: I know that.
Matt: They deny the truth of who God really is.
Matt: And they will continue to deny more and more of God, as they move further and further away from biblical truth.

Sam: I am simply putting forth an 'ovt' that the future is open, but is also known.  The only way this works is for there not to be a literal place of 'the future' for God to dwell in, but only the timeless present which matter experiences as a progression of time.  Which God knows full well and His power effects this universe fully.
Matt: That would be mutually exclusive.  To say that it is open but also known, according to OpenView theology, cannot be true.  If something is open, according to OpenView theology, then it cannot be exhaustively known.
Sam: Hehe sometimes the truth is found in the skin of both.
Matt: Therefore, I do not believe you understand OpenView theology correctly.... or, perhaps, I do not.

Sam: No I think you have a form of ovt nailed quite rightly. That form is heretical.
Matt: From what I have read of open theism, by the open theists themselves, I think it is, as a whole, heretical.

Sam: However the ovts I have met would say that God does know the future, just not the way we would initially think He does. But I came to this conclusion on my own before I was even told what ovt was. 

Matt: I know. They play with the words of what it means to know. And in so doing they restrict God's nature to the present in order to preserve, what they think, is human freedom.  This is what it comes down to.
Sam: What they miss is that the free will of man... is restricted by the will of God. And there go the heretics who miss that. And that is what I wanted to confront you about that not all ovts are of that branch.
Matt: Yes, that is another discussion. The free will of man is something worth another entire dialogue. Nevertheless, it is getting late.
Sam: Yes.
Sam: I must go too.
Matt: My wife and I usually spend the evening together.
Sam: My wife went to bed. But please have the last word.
Matt: May I use this dialog on my web site?
Sam: I enjoyed this convo. Yes, by all means.
Sam: Please share.
Matt: My last word is that I hope that you, myself included, come to a more proper understanding of God so that we might bring more glory to Him in truth and this through His son Jesus Christ.
Matt: Thanks for letting me use this.

Sam: Amen. To God be the glory!
Matt: God bless.
Sam: God bless you Matt.

I think that this was a good dialogue for two reasons.  First, it was done respectfully on both sides.  Second, I think that we were able to demonstrate that there are problems in the OpenView theology in the relationship of God to time.

About The Author

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