Arminian Theology and Open Theism
Open Theism is a school of thought which believes that God does not have exhaustive foreknowledge of the future. Their view comes about after attempts to reconcile human freedom and divine foreknowledge. Open Theists reject that these two concepts are reconcilable and ultimately reject the idea that God does indeed have exhaustive foreknowledge. If the future has truly undetermined and uncaused decisions and actions, they say, then God cannot fully know the future because much of it is not available to be known. They claim that God has decided to limit his knowledge of the future in order to maintain human freedom as a necessary quality of a meaningful relationship. Some have argued that this view is a necessary implication and a logical development of Arminian theology, and those who have made a move towards openness theology are usually from the Arminian tradition. This is unfortunate, though, because Classical Arminian theology has historically affirmed God’s exhaustive foreknowledge of the future. This post will look at two weighty historical sources to show that Open Theism constitutes not a development but a denial of Classical Arminian thought.
Our first source is James Arminius himself. While expounding his understanding of the divine decrees in his “Declaration of Sentiments” , Arminius said, “To these succeeds the FOURTH decree, by which God decreed to save and damn certain particular persons. This decree has its foundation in the foreknowledge of God, by which he knew from all eternity those individuals who would, through his preventing [prevenient] grace, believe, and, through his subsequent grace would persevere…and, by which foreknowledge, he likewise know those who would not believe and persevere” (quoted in R. Olson, Arminian Theology, 184).
It should be clear here that Arminius, far from rejecting the foreknowledge of God, grounded his understanding of predestination and election in the fact of God’s foreknowledge. Arminius understood God to be able to look into the future to see who would respond to his grace both in justification and perseverance. God then determined to save those whom he foreknew would respond to his grace by faith. Those who would be faithful to Arminius’ thinking must affirm God’s foreknowledge as the ground of God’s predetermination.
Our second historical source is, perhaps, the most famous and well-known Arminian second only to Arminius himself – John Wesley. In his sermon “On Predestination,” Wesley argued that the foreknowledge of God is the first point to be addressed in considering God’s whole work in salvation.” Wesley said that, “God foreknew those in every nation who would believe,” and that, “In a word, God, looking on all ages, from the creation to the consummation, as a moment, and seeing at once whatever is in the hearts of all children of men, knows every one that does or does not believe, in every age or nation” (Works, VI.226-7). Wesley saw no conflict between human moral freedom and divine foreknowledge. He affirmed that though God knew the future, he did not determine it. Wesley believed that we must not think that things are because God knows them; rather, God knows them because they are (Works, VI.227). Like Arminius, Wesley saw God’s divine foreknowledge as the ground of his predetermination to save those who believe and damn those who do not believe.
Both Arminius and Wesley held this view of God’s foreknowledge as the basis of his predetermination because they found it in Scripture. In Romans 8:29, it is precisely those who God foreknows that he determines to justify and finally glorify. Arminius and Wesley faithfully affirmed the foreknowledge of God and its place in salvation because of their faithfulness to Scripture.
It should be clear then that Open Theism cannot be a development of Arminian theology. Classical Arminians cannot reject God’s foreknowledge because it is a central aspect of Arminius’ own thinking not to mention that of Wesley. Further, Classical Arminians cannot reject God’s foreknowledge because divine foreknowledge is the scripturally taught foundation of God’s predetermination. Rather than say they are developing Arminian theology, Open Theists should have the integrity to say they are making a departure from the founding teachings of Arminianism. Open Theism is a denial not a development of historic Arminian theology.