In our first series, we noted that positing the classical Arminian view of exhaustive, yet passive simple foreknowledge logically destroys what the Arminian desires to preserve the most, man’s libertarian free will. We then noted how the open theist rightly concludes that commitment to said teaching from an Arminian doctrinal platform leads to finite godism. In other words, the open theist believes that if the classical Arminian wants to posit that God infallibly knows all future choices and actions, then it follows that those choices and actions are not free (in a libertarian sense), that genuine freedom related to human behavior is destroyed, the authentic providential control of the universe is undermined, that real relationship and intimacy with God is only apparent and illusory, and that in spite of all efforts to preserve libertarian free will, a fatalistically determined view of the Creator/Creation relationship must be adopted.
In part two of this series, we will discuss the effects of a denial of Classical Theism’s Eternal Decree of God as proclaimed in the Bible and summarized in the historic, Protestant Confessions of Faith and how such a denial is successfully accomplished only by systematically denying the truth and clarity provided by the monergistic understanding of divine foreknowledge as taught within the realm of historic Reformed and Baptist confessional theology.
Denial of Classical Theism’s Eternal Decree of God
Since the open theist rejects some of the most important tenets associated with classical Arminian theology (i.e: simple passive foreknowledge) on logical grounds, this will also logically lead to a rejection of classical theism in both its Arminian and Calvinistic forms. Therefore, it will be helpful to look at some basic definitions of theism, and then discuss at what point exactly it is that the open theist makes a contention over and against the classical theist. The non-Calvinist Theissen defines general Christian theism as, “The belief in one personal God, both immanent and transcendent, who exists in three personal distinctions, known respectively as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” 4-point Arminian Norman Geisler defines theism in an even more basic sense, “Theism is the worldview that an infinite, personal God created the universe and miraculously intervenes in it from time to time.” Neither the Arminian nor the open theist would have problems with the aforementioned basic definitions, but the open theist, from the platform of rightfully critiquing the simple passive foreknowledge view of the Arminian, will argue specifically against the teachings within classical theism that have to do with the eternal decree of God, especially when that doctrine is presented from a historical Calvinistic perspective. A Classical Definition of God’s Eternal Decree
A Classical Definition of God’s Eternal Decree
Classical theism teaches that God’s decree covers and affects everything and that He does not change His decree. This is the view of all Calvinists and most Arminians. Regarding God’s eternal decree, the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith states,
God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established; in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree.
Although God knoweth whatsoever may or can come to pass, upon all supposed conditions, yet hath he not decreed anything, because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.
The above quoted sections of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith are statements that some Arminians and all open theists love to hate. Notice in the two paragraphs above that God is presented as the chief, supreme being who is in control of both major and minor events (i.e: “whatsoever comes to pass”). God is represented as the eternal and sovereign King who decrees from all eternity what, when, and how He desires things to come to pass. From these two short paragraphs, God is presented as providentially controlling the events of the entire universe by his own sovereign decree (Eph. 1:11).
Biblical Examples of God’s Eternal Decree
Some brief biblical examples of God’s eternal decree include the fact that Moses’ life changed the entire course of history. It is important here to ponder on the fact that all of the major historical events recorded in the Scriptures, stood or fell on the integrity and stability of an “ark of bulrushes” with a Hebrew baby in it floating on the
If the infant Moses would not have made it to Pharoah’s daughter at the exact time that he did, there would have been no law given at Sinai, if there was no law there could have been no basis for the Old Testament prophets arguing against Israel’s idolatry, lawlessness, and sin, if there were no prophets there could not have been a coming Savior to whom the prophets pointed, and if there was no Savior, there could be no salvation from sin offered to all mankind. All of this caused by the supposed random floating of a Hebrew infant in a basket along the Nile River approximately 3,500 years ago!
New Testament examples of God sovereign control and providence over all events includes the sinful actions of people that God used to bring about the greater good that was found in the Cross of Jesus Christ.
Open Theism’s Two Most Popular Proponents Denying God’s Eternal Decree and Exhaustive Foreknowledge through Critiquing the Arminian View of Simple Passive Foreknowledge
The following section will focus on the statements of two of open theism’s most popular proponents, Clark Pinnock and John Sanders, to demonstrate that open theists deny and sometimes even abhor classical theism because of its strong teaching regarding God’s eternal decree. Again, we will also make note of the fact that open theists have rightly found the philosophical “chink” in the armor of the Arminian synergistic view by demonstrating the inconsistency of having a God that decrees all things yet has mere simple passive foreknowledge of future free events. Because they pick up on the inconsistency of the Arminian view of God’s foreknowledge in relationship to God’s eternal and fixed decree, the open theist believes that the future is not determined and fixed in any meaningful way. Pinnock has written, “It is unsound to think of exhaustive foreknowledge, implying that every detail of the future is already decided" Thus, Pinnock would disagree with the Scripture and classical theism’s teaching that within the sinful actions of men, God has an ultimate purpose for the evil intentions of their hearts.
Pinnock also disagrees with classical theists in their teaching that God is in control of all things that come to pass, both good and evil. He states, "Though God can bring good out of evil, it does not make evil itself good and does not even ensure that God will succeed in every case to bring good out of it." Also, Pinnock contradicts classical theism by positing that God cannot be in complete control of the world. He states, "This means that God is not now in complete control of the world . . . . things happen which God has not willed . . . . God's plans at this point in history are not always fulfilled" and, "Not everything that happens in the world happens for some reason, . . . . things that should not have happened, things that God did not want to happen. They occur because God goes in for real relationships and real partnerships." Pinnock also destroys the classical theistic concept of an eternal decree of God by making the following statement while supporting another proponent of open theism, "As Boyd puts it: 'Only if God is the God of what might be and not only the God of what will be can we trust him to steer us...'"
John Sanders, another popular proponent of open theism believes that God has no eternal plans to rule and govern the world. In his book The God Who Risks, Sanders clearly states his views concerning the classical theistic understanding of God’s sovereignty and providence by stating, “God has sovereignly decided not to control everything that happens. Rather God is sensitive to us and has decided to be responsive to us. In some things, God has decided to be conditioned by us. Divine conditionality is the watershed issue between the risk and the no-risk views of providence . . . There is no eternal blueprint by which all things happen exactly as God desires.”
Notice that Sanders ties in God’s not sovereignly controlling everything to His ability to develop genuine relationships with believers by allowing us to “condition” Him. It is important to point out here that Sanders considers “Divine conditionality” as the “watershed issue” to determine whether believers can have true relationships (“risk” model of God) versus what he would see as an illusory relationship with God (“no-risk” model of God). This is indeed important to reiterate that open theists believe that if God cannot be conditioned by the creature (i.e: He is immutable), then all supposed relationships and intimacy that a person can develop with God are merely illusory and not actual.
The Helpless God of Open Theism
It is evident at this point that the overreaction of the open theist against the Arminian doctrine of simple passive foreknowledge not only reveals the open theist heretic for what he is, but most importantly, these heretics have served up a fine plate of doctrinal pottage for the Arminan who wants to desperately hold on to Classical theism’s view of God’s eternal decree. As we’ve already seen, open theists consider the changeableness of God as a major factor in developing a relationship with Him and helping Him fulfill His general plan for history. Sanders states, “The portrait of God developed here is one according to which God sovereignly wills to have human persons become collaborators with him in achieving the divine project of mutual relations of love. Thus, Sanders argues for a “divine project” whereby God needs “collaborators” vs. an unchangeable eternal decree. Pinnock makes the same argument when he states, "According to the open view, God freely decided to be, in some respects, affected and conditioned by creatures..." "The world is dependent on God but God has also, voluntarily, made himself dependent on it . . . . God is also affected by the world." Sanders also goes on to show his disdain for the traditional view of an eternal decree by stating,
Either God does take risks or does not take risks in providentially creating and governing the world. Either God is in some respect conditioned by the creatures he created or he is not conditioned them. If God is completely unconditioned by anything external to himself, then God does not take any risks. According to the no-risk understanding, no event ever happens without God’s specifically selecting it to happen. Nothing is too insignificant for God’s meticulous and exhaustive control. Each and every death, civil war, famine, wedding, peaceful settlement or birth happens because God specifically intends it to happen. Thus God never takes any risks and nothing ever turns out differently from the way God desires. The divine will is never thwarted in any respect.
God does not have a specific divine purpose for each and every occurrence of evil. . . . When a two month old child contracts a painful, incurable bone cancer that means suffering and death, it is pointless evil. The Holocaust is pointless evil. The rape and dismemberment of a young girl is pointless evil. The accident that caused the death of my brother was a tragedy. God does not have a specific purpose in mind for these occurrences.
In a magazine debate, Sanders scorns the classical theistic view by setting up an emotional argument against Calvinist Christopher A. Hall’s presentation of God’s eternal decree. He states the following,
Since you believe that nothing happens except what God specifically ordains to occur, you logically conclude that God wants each and every rape, act of incest, and other atrocities to occur. So God wants little girls abused? And you think our view diminishes God’s glory! John Wesley was correct to describe classical theism’s understanding of God’s love as a ‘love that makes the blood run cold.’
Sanders posits a God who is out of control and seeks the help of His creatures to help Him fulfill His “divine project” which can go wrong. To summarize Sanders’ view, the following quote would be appropriate, “God resourcefully tries out different paths in his efforts to bring his project toward a successful completion. God’s activity does not unfold according to some heavenly blueprint whereby all goes according to plan. God is involved in a historical project, not an eternal plan.” Therefore, the two most popular open theist heretics within evangelicalism today, Clark Pinnock and John Sanders clearly and stridently set forth their arguments against the traditional synergistic, Arminian understanding of Classical Theism by exposing the logical contradiction between the Arminian view of an exhaustive decree juxtaposed over against their belief in God’s simple passive foreknowledge of future free events.
In conclusion, we see clearly that the false teaching of God’s simple passive foreknowledge in the camp of our Arminian brethren has given the open theist incentive for blaspheming God and his word with an objection aimed specifically at the Biblical concept of God’s eternal decree. May we all pause and recognize that this as an example of the doctrinal casualties that result when “strange fire” is offered before the Lord in the form of philosophical notions rather than the pure and pristine truths of the consistency of God’s eternal decree as depicted throughout the pages of Holy Writ.
 It is important to note that Calvinists do not hold to simple passive foreknowledge but the open theist’s rejection of any concept of foreknowledge will logically lead to a rejection of the Reformed view of foreknowledge.
 Henry C. Theissen, Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1999), 21.
 Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 722.
 Open theists may take measures to show that “transcendence” and “immmanence” in God supports their own theology. For a refutation, cf. Norman Geisler, The Battle For God (
 For an excellent overall study of the reasons for the increasing growth of openness theology and the subsequent denial of classical theism within evangelicalism, cf. Michael Horton, “God in Our Image.
Why Some Evangelicals are Challenging the Traditional View of God,” Modern Reformation:, September/October 1999, Vol.
 Basic illustration adapted from Systematic Theology BI 552 classroom notes held during May 2003 at
 John M. Frame, No Other God: A Response to Open Theism (
 Pinnock, 8. [see part I for original book title]
 Pinnock, 176 [italics author’s for emphasis].
 Pinnock, 36 [emphasis author’s].
 Pinnock, 47 [emphasis author’s].
 Pinnock, 103 [emphasis author’s].
 John Sanders, The God Who Risks: A Theology of
 Sanders, 12 [emphasis author’s].
 Pinnock, 5 [emphasis author’s].
 Pinnock, 31 [emphasis author’s].
 Sanders, 10.
 Sanders, 262 [emphasis author’s].