Saturday, March 3, 2018

A Response to David L. Paulsen on Open Theism

A third LDS author who has sympathetically commented on and discussed Open Theism has been David L. Paulsen, who has had a distinguished career as a professor of philosophy at BYU. He had a number of exchanges with Clark H. Pinnock (now deceased) who was one of the chief architects and proponents of Open Theism in his time, and wrote several books in defense of the subject, the two most famous of which are Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness, and The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God. Paulsen invited Pinnock to lecture at BYU, and also published two articles on Open Theism in BYU Studies, one of which is titled, “Open and Relational Theology: An Evangelical in Dialogue with a Latter-day Saint,” and consists of a lengthy discussion with Pinnock on Open Theism; and the second is titled, “A New Evangelical Vision of God: Openness and Mormon Thought,” and is his review of Pinnock’s book, Most Moved Mover. The title of the latter book is a pun on the phrase “unmoved mover,” which was first coined by Aristotle to mean a “prime mover” of all “movements” in the universe (not quite the same thing as a “first cause”)—a concept which was later adapted by St. Thomas Aquinas as one of his five “proofs” for the existence of God. Thomas’s idea of an “Unmoved Mover,” however, is not quite the same as Aristotle’s. For a good discussion of that subject see herePaulsen’s review of this book (PDF download hereis fairly long, and it is not my intention to give it a detailed reply. I will only highlight and comment on some significant passages. He begins his review as follows:

Most Moved Mover is the compilation of these lectures in which Pinnock offers a compelling portrait of God that challenges the so-called classical or traditional account of God formulated by early Christian theologians who were heavily influenced by Greek philosophy. Pinnock passionately denounces the idea that God is impassible, immutable, simple, and timeless. He vehemently rejects conventional ideas that God is primarily a ‘punitive authority,’ a ‘metaphysical immobility,’ or an ‘all-controlling power’ (p. 1). Instead, he offers an ‘open’ view of God that emphasizes his profound passibility and his genuine interpersonal relationships with other moral agents. The ‘open’ God enters into authentic give and take relationships with human beings and leaves the future partly undetermined, allowing human beings to have an active role as agents within the unfolding of his purposes.”

“Compelling” to Paulsen (and Fisher) obviously; but not to me! This statement alone contains or takes for granted so many false premises, assumptions, or deductions that it would require several blog posts to address each one. But briefly note the following:

  • The accusation of “Greek influence” (with the negative connotation) is assumed and not proved. The fact that both Aristotle and Aquinas (for example) may have agreed on, or recognized an important concept or principle does not in and of itself constitute a negative, or something to be avoided in a theological discussion, until it is examined and judged independently on its own merits.
  • Dismissing the theological concepts of the “Impassibility, immutability, and timelessness” in one breath is easy. Rationally justifying it is not. When properly understood, they turn out to be true theological principles that are affirmed by LDS scripture as much as (if not more so than) the Bible.
  • God being “primarily a punitive authority” or a “metaphysical immobility” are slanderous accusations that no respectable theologian of the traditional school would recognize.
  • God being an “all-controlling power” is certainly how God is portrayed in the Bible as well as in LDS scripture. If he has an issue with that, his issue is not with the “theologians,” but with scripture.
  • The claim that Kinnock in his book “offers an ‘open’ view of God that emphasizes his profound passibility and his genuine interpersonal relationships with other moral agents” implies the supposition that (a) “impassibility” is necessary a false concept, and (b) it denies or makes impossible God’s “genuine interpersonal relationships with other moral agents,” both of which are assumed and not proved (and are false).
  • The idea that “the ‘open God’ enters into authentic give and take relationships with human beings …” carries the unproven (and false) assumption that classic or traditional concept of the Deity doesn’t.
  • The idea that “the ‘open God’ … leaves the future partly undetermined, allowing human beings to have an active role as agents within the unfolding of his purposes” carries the unproven (and false) assumption that without an “open God,” “allowing human beings to have an active role as agents within the unfolding of his purposes” would not be possible.

The entire passage consists of unsubstantiated innuendos and not much else. Addressing them in any amount of detail would necessitate writing a separate blog post for each, which hopefully, in the light of the following comments will not be necessary. The following additional quotes from the article provide additional insights into the general thinking behind Open Theism (and of those who advocate or sympathize with it) that, for LDS at least, renders a detailed comment unnecessary (page numbers are as they appear on the PDF; emphasis added):

“‘Far from a totally unchanging and all-determining absolute Being,’ Pinnock writes, ‘the Bible presents God as a personal agent who creates and acts, wills and plans, loves and values in relation to covenant partners.’” (p. 420)

“Pinnock argues in this chapter that traditional conceptions of God’s attributes such as absolute immutability, timelessness, and impassibility—now firmly rooted in Christian tradition—are, in fact, pagan by-products of the Hellenistic intellectual milieu in which the conventional Christian view of God was shaped.” (p. 427)

“Pinnock writes, … ‘A package of divine attributes has been constructed which leans in the direction of immobility and hyper-transcendence, particularly because of the influence of the Hellenistic category of unchangeableness’” (p. 430).

“Pinnock offers some examples: ‘Suppose that God, as Thomas Aquinas taught, is unchangeable as a stone pillar and cannot entertain real relationships in his essential nature. Suppose that in God there are no real relations to creatures—that they may move in relation to God but God cannot move in relation to them. Since the Christian life is at the heart a personal relationship with God, it would be best to live as if this view of immutability were not the case, as I am sure Aquinas himself must have done in his life.’” (p. 438)

I have quoted and grouped together these passages from different parts of the article in order to illustrate a point. Pinnock attacks pretty much all the traditional attributes of God, such as omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, impassibility and immutability. But there is one attribute that he attacks more than the rest, and that is God’s immutability (unchangeableness). But LDS have a good answer to that. What does Joseph Smith has to say about it? Quite a lot apparently!

In his Lectures on Faith, Joseph Smith upholds all the major attributes of God, such as omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence; but there is one attribute that he emphasizes more than any other; and that is God’s unchangeableness! He talks about and emphasizes that more than any other attribute of God. It is the one attribute that he applies to all the other attributes. None of the other attributes would be meaningful, nor would they be a source of faith in God if they were not immutable and unchangeable. See Lecture III 6, 9–15, 21–22, 26, cat. 12, 19, 24; Lecture IV 5, 11, 19, cat. 10; Lecture VII 9, 20. (References are to my published edition of the Lectures on Faith).

Immutability and unchangeableness of God is not a “pagan by-product of the Hellenistic intellectual milieu,” as he would have us believe; nor does it “lean in the direction of immobility and hyper-transcendence”. It does not turn God into “a stone pillar [that] cannot entertain real relationships in his essential nature,” nor does it prevent God from acting “as a personal agent who creates and acts, wills and plans, loves and values in relation to covenant partners”. That is Pinnock’s way of undermining the essential attributes of God; but that is not what they mean. When God made a covenant with Abraham he said to him, “My name is Jehovah, and I know the end from the beginning; therefore my hand shall be over thee.” (Abraham 2:8). God’s fantastic attributes did not prevent him from entering into a covenant relationship with Abraham. On the contrary, they facilitated it. Unchangeableness is one of the most important (if not the most important) attribute of God without which it would be impossible for any rational being to exercise faith in him so as to obtain eternal life. Likewise Pinnock’s rejection of all the major classic attributes of God can be discredited by the scriptures in the same way. The one book of LDS scripture that helps to discredit them more than any other is the Lectures on Faith. The following are some additional quotes from the article to close these remarks with. On page 433 of the PDF it says:

“Pinnock seems convinced that close biblical analysis and rational engagement will result in ‘openness thinking.’ We believe that modern revelation points in the same direction.”

The truth of course is exactly the opposite. Modern revelation does nothing of the kind. Modern revelation negates, cancels out, and destroys Open Theism on a grand scale. Here is one more quote from page 437:

“According to Pinnock, the open view affirms human freedom, makes prayer relevant, and encourages steps on the way to sanctification. If the future is determined or foreknown, why should we even bother to do the right thing?”

The future is “foreknown” but not “determined”. Those are two different things. The future is foreknown because it is known to God what choices people will freely make. The assumption that the future being foreknown means that our choices would have to be determined, or not freely made, is not a valid logical deduction.

There is one curious observation left to be made, however. David L. Paulsen has written an article for the Encyclopedia of Mormonism titled: “Omnipotent God; Omnipresence of God; Omniscience of God” in which he makes the following comment:

“Despite these differing views, there is accord [in Mormonism] on two fundamental issues: (1) God’s foreknowledge does not causally determine human choices, and (2) this knowledge, like God’s power, is maximally efficacious. No event occurs that he has not anticipated or has not taken into account in his planning.”

Both of these assertions contradict the basic tenets of Open Theism. You can’t be sympathetic to Open Theism and adhere to those two statements at the same time. So what has happened since then? Has he changed his mind since he wrote those words, or did he never believe in it in the first place? 😀

Revised March 7, 2018.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A Response to Blake Ostler on Open Theism

Blake T. Ostler, another LDS advocate of Open Theism, in a blog post published in January 2, 2007 titled: “Hermeneutical Assumptions and Open Theism,” has outlined his justification for Open Theism which can be seen hereIt is a long piece not conducive to a detailed, point-by-point response; neither is it necessary to give it a detailed response in order to refute its basic premises, assumptions, and conclusions. The following is a brief, but adequate response to his advocacy of Open Theism. He begins his message as follows:

“It is no secret that Open Theists read [the] scriptures with different operative principles of interpretation than those who maintain classical theology. Open theists generally argue that scriptural passages demonstrate that God changes his mind, relents, repents or feels sorrow for things that have occurred. If they are correct, then at least to the extent such scripture is regarded as disclosing what is true of God, then God cannot be, as classical theists maintain: (1) immutable in the strong sense that none of God’s intrinsic properties is subject to change; (2) impassible in the sense that nothing outside of God influences him or otherwise has no feelings comparable to human feelings; (3) timeless in the sense that God is outside of any type of temporal succession; (4) prescient in the sense that God has infallible foreknowledge.

“Those who oppose Open Theism argue that the “literal” readings of scripture by Open Theists ignore more general statements about God elsewhere in the Bible; fail to recognize that God adapts himself “anthropomorphically” to speak to mere mortals and that from the divine point of view things look very different than from this view adapted to human weaknesses. We question whether this type of critique of open theists can be coherently maintained. Indeed, it seems that those who critique open theists readings makes [sic] several hermeneutical assumptions that are not merely foreign to the text itself, but which assume a view of human knowledge that is both arrogant and impossible from the human stance.”

The answer to that is that the critiques are based on other scriptural passages that affirm the attributes and character of the Deity which Open Theists like to deny, such as omnipotence, omniscience, and immutability. Open Theists like to selectively pick the bits of scripture that suits their nuanced interpretation, while conspicuously disregarding the bits that don’t. He continues:

“In such a short space we cannot possibly do justice to all of the texts and all of the issues that arise from such a far ranging discussion. Even a discussion that merely adequately defined the various views of the divine attributes would be foolish to attempt in so short a presentation.”

The whole of Open Theism is based on one fundamental assumption: that the future is “open” to God (meaning that God does not know it exhaustively), because of man’s freewill. It sees divine foreknowledge and human freewill to be incompatible. You can’t have both. It is either one or the other. And since man is free, therefore God’s foreknowledge cannot be exhaustive. If that basic premise can be disproved at its first point of weakness, then the whole edifice of Open Theism collapses, together with the artificial scaffolding that has been built around it, and the debate comes to an end. So the debate about Open Theism need not be as “far ranging” as he likes to portray it to be. The advocates of Open Theism like to portray it as though it were a much more grandiose theological project than it actually is. Once the essential underlying assumptions of Open Theism is destroyed (which is easy to do, especially with reference to modern LDS scripture as shown in my previous posts), there will be nothing more of it left to debate and argue over. He then continues as follows:

“However, we want to focus on just two texts to tease out the differing hermeneutical approaches and to demonstrate that while both open theists and their opponents bring critical assumptions to the text, their assumptions are not equally problematic. Open theists bring the assumption to the text that its meaning can be teased out by logical principles. Taking the text at what it both says and asserts, they derive conclusions based on simple deductive principles.

“Their critics, on the other hand, bring a prior understanding of God to the text that controls what it can possibly be read to establish. The critics, for short, assume scriptural uniformitarianism. That is, all writers of scripture write with a common understanding of God so that if one writer of scriptural records, even removed hundreds of years from another, has a given view of God, then all have a common understanding of God so that they cannot disagree. Thus, if say Isaiah says something that disagrees with the writer(s) compilers of Exodus and Deuteronomy, the text of Isaiah must be read in such a way as to harmonize. Further, the critics argue that this common understanding of God has already been accurately grasped by the tradition and so this traditional reading must control what can be concluded from the text.”

The underlying assumption of that statement is that scripture cannot be relied upon to teach a consistent theology—and that is okay from his point of view! It is okay for Isaiah to teach one theology or doctrine, and for Exodus to teach another that is at odds with Isaiah—and there is no problem with that as far as he is concerned! That is his basic assumption. The effect of that assumption is twofold:

Firstly, it undermines his own “openness of God” theology every bit as much as the classic “closed” one. If scripture (collectively) cannot be trusted to teach a consistent theology, or a consistent view of God, who is to say which bit of scripture is teaching the “correct” doctrine or theology, and which bit isn’t? If Isaiah is teaching a “closed” theology, and Exodus is teaching an “open” theology, by what criteria has he determined that Isaiah’s theology is the wrong one, and Exodus’s theology is the right one? Why not the other way?—or worse still, who is to say that both of them are not equally wrong! If scripture cannot be trusted to teach a consistent theology, it cannot be trusted to teach a correct theology.

Secondly, his underlying assumption undermines the doctrine of the divine inspiration of scripture. If scripture cannot be trusted to teach a consistent theology, then how can it be assumed to be divinely inspired and contain the revealed will of God? Does God contradict himself? A fundamental assumption of dealing with God is that he is a God of truth and cannot lie. He is trustworthy and reliable, and does not contradict himself. If God contradicts himself, or teaches contradictory doctrines, how can we trust anything that he says? It goes contrary to passages such as these:

2 Timothy 3:

15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

2 Peter 1:

20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.
21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

How can scripture be considered to be the inspired word of God, and to teach the revealed will of God, if it does not teach a consistent theology? It also goes contrary to repeated statements made by Jesus himself in the four Gospels in which the “scriptures” are portrayed as teaching (authoritatively) a consistent theology. It likewise contradicts numerous similar passages found in modern LDS scripture affirming the same thing. In D&C 42:12 for example we read, … the elders, priests and teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospel, which are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fulness of the gospel.” How can the Bible (and the Book of Mormon) contain the “fulness of the gospel” if they are not teaching a consistent theology, or if they are not divinely inspired?

At this point he embarks on a lengthy discussion of Exodus 32:7–14, and Jonah 3:1–10, which he reckons support Open Theism; because they appear to show that God does not know the future exhaustively, but reacts to events as they occur in time; is subject to temporal succession; and is capable of “changing his mind”. First he quotes from Exodus 32 as follows (emphasis added):

“Let’s consider just two common texts used to support the Open Theist’s view. Consider the text of Exodus 32 (and its parallel in Deuteronomy 9):”

Exodus 32:

7 Yahweh spoke to Moses, “Go, get down; for your people, who you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves!
8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it, and have sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt.’”
9 Yahweh said to Moses, “I have seen these people, and behold, they are a stiff-necked people.
10 Now therefore leave me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them, and that I may consume them; and I will make of you a great nation.”
11 Moses begged Yahweh his God, and said, “Yahweh, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, that you have brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?
12 Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘He brought them forth for evil, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the surface of the earth?’ Turn from your fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against your people.
13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your seed as the stars of the sky, and all this land that I have spoken of I will give to your seed, and they shall inherit it forever.’”
14 Yahweh repented of the evil which he said he would do to his people. (World English Bible)

From that scripture he reaches the following conclusion: (emphasis added):

“There are several key points to be made about this text. God clearly declares that he intends to destroy the Israelites who had made the golden calf and to fulfill his promises by raising up a holy people through the lineage of Moses’ descendants alone. Moses, however, contends with God. Moses “begged” God to both “turn” (bwX) his wrath and “repent” (mhn) of his purpose to destroy Israel. (v. 12) The verbs here show that Moses expected God to change what he had declared he would do. He expected God to change his mind. The Hebrew verb nacham means not merely to change, but its primary meaning is to feel sorrow or regret for what one does. Its primary meaning is emotive. It refers to the emotional tone of one’s feelings about one’s own actions. The Hebrew shuv means to turn around, to turn from, to change one’s course or direction. Moses then asks God to remember (rkz) the covenant he has made to raise seed from them as numerous as the stars. God then “repents” (KJV) or “relents” (NAB) or “changes his mind about the disaster he had planned to bring to his people.” (NRSV). While Moses believes that God’s intentions and declarations can be turned away and changed, he believes that there is something that must remain constant: God’s commitment to his covenant promises. Thus, Moses argues with God based upon the unchanging commitment to his covenant with Abraham to make of him a great nation. What is unchanging for Moses in this narrative is not God; but God’s purposes and promises.”

That is not an accurate depiction of the verses he has quoted and is commenting on. God doesn’t say that he has made a firm, irrevocable decision to destroy the Israelites. He says in verse 10, “Now therefore leave me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them,  which means that he has not firmly made up his mind to destroy them. He is open to persuasion, and so Moses persuades him. Everything else that he has said about that scripture from that point on becomes moot. He is making an incorrect inference from the start, which renders all the rest of his argument based on that inference redundant. It also ignores passages like Numbers 23:19–20 and 1 Samuel 15:29, which clearly indicate that once God has indeed made up his mind, he does NOT afterwards relent or change his mind. Blake has committed two obvious hermeneutical errors: (1) he has incorrectly interpreted Exodus 32:10 to mean that God had made up his mind, when it is obvious that he hadn’t; and (2) he has overlooked Numbers 23:19–20 and 1 Samuel 15:29 which clearly teach that once God has indeed made up his mind, he does NOT afterwards relent or change his mind. And none of this of course invalidates the foreknowledge of God, which is the fundamental issue here. God interacts with man in time because man is a creature of time, and that is the only way that God can interact with man; but that does not prevent God from foreknowing what the outcome of that interaction will be in the long-run. Skipping a lot of redundant material, the next set of scripture he quotes in support of his theology is from Jonah 3 (emphasis added) as follows:

“A similar course of events occurs in Jonah 3, except it is a prophet who declares God’s intention; though it is once again God who relents or changes his mind:”

Jonah 3:

1 The word of Yahweh came to Jonah the second time, saying,
2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I give you.”
3 So Jonah arose, and went to Nineveh, according to the word of Yahweh. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey across.
4 Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried out, and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
5 The people of Nineveh believed God; and they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
6 The news reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and took off his royal robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.
7 He made a proclamation and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, “Let neither man nor animal, herd nor flock, taste anything; let them not feed, nor drink water;
8 but let them be covered with sackcloth, both man and animal, and let them cry mightily to God. Yes, let them turn everyone from his evil way, and from the violence that is in his hands.
9 Who knows whether God will not turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, so that we might not perish?”
10 God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way. God repented of the evil which he said he would do to them, and he didn’t do it. (Jonah 3 WEB)

And he concludes from it the following:

“In this passage Johah declares the message given to him by Yahweh: “Yet forty days and Ninevah shall be overthrown.” (v. 3) So God through Jonah declares the destruction of Ninevah and there is nothing in the context to suggest that such a declaration is conditional. It is a starightforward statement of what will occur.”

That again is an incorrect reading of the text. If God had already made a firm decision to destroy Nineveh no matter what, why is he sending Jonah to advise them of the fact forty days in advance? What would be the point of him doing that? There is an underlying assumption there that he hasn’t made an irrevocable decision, but that he is open to persuasion, and that he is giving them a chance to repent. Evidently that is what the people of Nineveh understood by it, which proved to be right. Elsewhere the Bible affirms the same doctrine:

Ezekiel 33:

14 Again, when I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; if he turn from his sin, and do that which is lawful and right;
15 If the wicked restore the pledge, give again that he had robbed, walk in the statutes of life, without committing iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die.
16 None of his sins that he hath committed shall be mentioned unto him: he hath done that which is lawful and right; he shall surely live.

That is what the people of Nineveh did. The rest of his argument thereafter again becomes moot. He is making an incorrect inference from the start, which invalidates all the rest of his argument based on that inference, and renders everything else he has said in that context redundant. And again, none of this invalidates God’s foreknowledge, which is the central issue as far as Open Theism is concerned. The fact that God interacts with mankind temporally, because man is temporal and is subject to the passage of time, does not negate God’s timelessness nor foreknowledge.

In the remainder of his lengthy discussion he brings two counter-arguments against the critics of Open Theism. The first is that they “reject deductive logic as a hermeneutical tool”. That is a matter of opinion. I think that my “deductive logic” is better than his, because mine takes into account the broader context of the scriptures. His deductive logic is flawed partly because its focus is too narrow; and partly because he actually draws incorrect inferences from the limited premises that he has chosen, as shown above. In Exodus 32, God does not say that he has categorically made up his mind to destroy Israel (as he assumes); and the “40-day respite” given to the people of Nineveh in Jonah 3 also amounts to the same thing—that God had not made up his mind, but was open to persuasion, and is giving them a chance to repent. In Oriental cultures and languages, they make use of a lot of hyperbole in their speech. For example in Matthew 26:26, 28 Jesus says, “This is my body,” and, “This is my blood”. This does not mean that it is literally, physically, his body and blood, but it represents his body and blood; it is an example hyperbolic use of language. Or in John 17:11, when Jesus says, “I am no more in the world,” it does not mean that he is literally, physically “no more in the world,” but that soon he will not be; it is an example of the use of hyperbole in language, which the Orientals are so fond of using. Likewise in Jonah 3:4, when it says, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” it does not mean God had made a firm, irrevocable decision to destroy it no matter what; but carries with it an implication that their sins had become so serious that it would be unless they repented, which they did. It is an example of the use of hyperbole in language. And none of this of course cancels out God’s foreknowledge in any degree, which is the ultimate issue here.

The second counter-argument he brings against the opponents of Open Theism is that “anthropomorphism” does not adequately explain God’s dealings with mankind (i.e. that he appears to change his mind, or appears not to know the future exhaustively). The word anthropomorphism may not adequately describe the phenomena that is being observed. There are two questions here that need to be addressed. The first is, Does God interact with mankind at all in scripture? The answer to that is obviously Yes. No “classical theist” would deny that God interacts with mankind in scripture. He sends them prophets, gives them laws, commands them to repent, rewards them when they do good and punishes them when the do evil, and answers their prayers. The second question is, Given God’s exhaustive foreknowledge of the future, how should God interact with mankind? Should he talk to them, and give them commandments and laws as if he didn’t know the future exhaustively; or should he say, “I already know what the end result will be, so I am not going to waste my time (and your time) talking to you, and telling you what to do or how to live; I am going to leave you get on with it as best you can, and wait until the end comes, and damn whoever deserve to be damned and save whoever deserves to be saved.” Open Theism’s assumption is that if God knows the future exhaustively, the only logical kind of interaction he should have with mankind is of the second kind! which is not a reasonable assumption.

Even though God knows the future exhaustively, and he knows “the end from the beginning,” he still needs to interact with mankind temporally as if he didn’t know, so that he can tell them what he expects of them, so that in turn he can judge them “according to their works” (Revelation 20:12-13). How could God judge mankind “according to their works,” if he did not interact with them temporally according to their condition as if the future was open, and reveal to them his laws and commandments, even though from his point of view he already knows what the outcome will be? How could he “judge them according to their works” unless he has first interacted with them to inform them what kind of “works” he expects of them? Blake’s basic assumption is that God should not interact with mankind in that way if the future is already known; or else if he does, then that means that the future must be open, which is not a valid, logical, or necessary assumption. The future being known does not invalidate man’s freewill. Although the future is known to God, man is still free to make his choices, and needs to be informed of what is required of him, and what the consequences will be if he doesn’t comply. Blake’s argument is based on the false assumption that if God knows the future exhaustively, then man’s will cannot be free, which is not a logical requirement.

The discussions that he subsequently has with those who have responded to his blog are also revealing. His post has received around 135 responses, most of which are not seriously challenging; but there is one respondent who signs himself as Jacob, who gives him a run for his money. He challenges him on 3 Nephi 27:32. How could Jesus be “sorrowing” over the conduct of the Nephites four generations down the line if his foreknowledge was not exhaustive (and man’s will was not free)? He also quotes him 2 Nephi 26:9–10, indicating how the prophecy goes back much further in time. Blake’s response to it is basically a copout. His response is that these are not true prophecies, but redactions, expansions, or “actualizations” made subsequently by others after the events had already taken place. For example in response #90, after quoting 3 Nephi 27:32, Jacob asks him the following question:

“Obviously the falling away of the Nephites is not something God would intentionally bring about, so that doesn’t work on this prophecy. I suppose you are saying that the fact of it happening four generations later could have been a redaction by someone after the fulfillment of the prophecy (Mormon?, Joseph Smith?). I am wondering what you think the original prophecy might have looked like. ‘It sorroweth me, because they will eventually fall away …’? (Comment by Jacob—January 14, 2007 @ 2:09 am)”

To this Blake gives some erratic responses at first, and finally crystallizes it in response #115 as follows:

“Jacob & Matt: The easiest answer is that the Book of Mormon language is actualized by later knowledge. I think that such actualization of the language in light of knowledge of the New Testament is evident throughout the book. So the challenge remains to find a passage that predicts free acts which is published before the act predicted. I am not aware of any. Only such an instance is truly predi[c]tive however. (Comment by Blake—January 15, 2007 @ 11:58 pm)”

His response is basically a copout. He is essentially saying that they are not true prophecies, but redactions, expansions, or “actualizations” of prophecies after the events had already transpired. He also challenges us to find a detailed prophecy which has not yet been “actualized”. Well, it is not hard to find such a prophecy. Here is one:

D&C 45:

68 And it shall come to pass among the wicked, that every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor must needs flee unto Zion for safety.
69 And there shall be gathered unto it out of every nation under heaven; and it shall be the only people that shall not be at war one with another.
70 And it shall be said among the wicked: Let us not go up to battle against Zion, for the inhabitants of Zion are terrible; wherefore we cannot stand.

This is a definitive prophecy about the future which has not yet come to pass. That proves what? The critic will now say that this is a prophecy about the future which has not yet come to pass, and therefore we won’t know that it will until it has! So we are now caught in a catch 22 situation. If we find a prophecy which has already been fulfilled, we are told this is a fulfilled prophecy which has already been “actualized,” therefore it is a redaction or expansion on something that in its original form would have been less clear. And if we find a clear prophecy which has not yet been fulfilled, we will no doubt be told that this is a prophecy which has not yet come to pass, and we won’t know that it will until it has! So we can never win. For further discussion of Open Theism see my previous posts.

Open Theism is essentially a theology of unbelief. There are two classes of people who are attracted to Open Theism: The first are those who have intellectually worked their way through it (like Blake Ostler, or like the Evangelical theologians who are advocating it); and the second are those who haven’t, but are simply relying on or trusting what somebody else has said, like Louis Midgley. For the first group, Open Theism is a theology of unbelief. For the second group, it is a theology of ignorance. It has no basis in scripture.

In conclusion it should be noted that answering Blake Ostler and others would have been made much easier for Latter-day Saints had the Lectures on Faith still been canonized. The Lectures on Faith are not only true scripture, but also the greatest theological treatise that has ever been written. They are “given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” and are “able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15–16). They are important items of revelation in the scriptural repertoire of Latter-day Saints enabling them to combat many false doctrines and theological errors such as those which Open Theists are advocating. Decanonizing them was a mistake which hopefully will be reversed.

Revised February 24, 2018.

Friday, February 9, 2018

A Response to Louis Midgley on Open Theism

There are not many LDS sources that have publicly commented on Open Theism, and Louis C. Midgley is one of them. It is therefore deserving of a more careful examination. In an article published on FairMormon blog in January 2010, he makes the following comments:

“The discussion [on Open Theism] always ends up focused on whether God knows and must know everything in fine detail that ever has or will ever happen. Some insist that this has to be the case.”

That is not accurate. Open Theism is based on the assumption that the future is “open,” meaning it is unknown to God. The past is settled, and is therefore known. He continues:

“But the fact is that Latter-day Saints are strictly Open Theists, if any group of believer fit that label.”

That is a very presumptuous statement indeed. He should only speak for himself. I am LDS, and would not by any stretch of the imagination identify myself as “Open Theist” (for the reasons previously given). He continues:

“Why? The reason is that creedal Christians, and this includes everyone who is locked into what is often called classical theism, ends up picturing God with attributes that Latter-day Saints from day one flatly reject.”

I am uncomfortable with the way in which he makes sweeping generalizations and broad, unsubstantiated assertions. What is the basis of his making that claim, and on what evidence? I would certainly not want to commit myself to the claim of rejecting every single “divine attribute” in “classical theism,” without examining those “attributes” in detail, and judging the merits and demerits of each on scriptural grounds. He continues:

“One is an Open Theist or can be described as such, if one is uncomfortable with or rejects classical theism. What do I mean by classical theism?”

Again, very sweeping generalizations and unsubstantiated assertions. Open Theism has a very precise definition. It is the doctrine that God does not know the future exhaustively, because he has granted man freewill, and therefore he doesn’t know in advance what decisions they will make until those decisions have been made, or until he comes close to it. The assumption is that for God to be able to know the future exhaustively, the future has to be “closed” (i.e. settled, predetermined), which would be incompatible (according to them) with human freewill. He continues:

“In what I am calling classical theism, and I am following a long line of authors in using this label, the divine attributes are such that Latter-day Saints flatly reject all of them, if they are understood from the perspective of those who hold them or from what is called the worldview they ground. In no particular order, I will identify these attributes. One must sense that these are not separable, meaning that one cannot coherently accept some of them and reject others. Put another way, they fit together into what those who hold them insist is a single coherent worldview.”

That again is a doubtful assertion. There is more than one school of theology, and Christian theologians are not always in agreement on all the divine attributes, or how best they are to be defined, expressed, or classified. Then he provides his list as follows:

“In classical theism, the divine attributes consist of the following:

“1. God is Unconditioned—that is, it is the Unconditional, meaning that it is not dependent on anything else. This is sometimes called aseity, which is a word meaning, I believe, ‘from self.’”

Aseity refers to God’s attribute of self-existence, or self-sufficiency. For any (created) object(s) to exist (which means pretty much everything), something uncreated (and self-existent) must have always existed, which is the ultimate source of all other (created) objects; and that uncaused cause of all other causes is God. Aseity refers to this attribute of the Deity, of being the independent, self-existent, self-sufficient, uncaused cause of all other causes; and I don’t have a problem with that. Either creation came by chance, or it was caused; and if it was caused, then there must have been an uncaused being who was the first and ultimate cause of all other causes. You can’t be a creationist and avoid that conclusion. And there are several scriptures that support that doctrine. The following verses readily come to mind:

Colossians 1:

16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:
17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

D&C 38:

1 Thus saith the Lord your God, even Jesus Christ, the Great I Am, Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end; the same which looked upon the wide expanse of eternity, and all the seraphic hosts of heaven before the world was made;
2 The same which knoweth all things, for all things are present before mine eyes.
3 I am the same which spake, and the world was made, and all things came by me.

These, and many more similar passages that could be quoted support that doctrine. Modern LDS scripture supports it better than the Bible does. I have no problem with the doctrine of the aseity of God from an LDS theological point of view.

“2. God is Being. Think of the Greek word on from which we get ontology and remember how that word is used to qualify it in sectarian conversations. But one must understand that it is not just any old being. It is not even a being that exists somewhere–that is, is not corporeal. Instead, it is Being-Itself or the isness in everything that is. This explains why it is sometimes called the Supreme Being.”

I am not sure what he is getting at to be honest; and he doesn’t provide any sources so we can look it up. But if I have to guess, it seems that he is talking about what is known as the “ontological” argument for the existence of God. Over the centuries Christian thinkers have tried to find various kinds of “proofs” for the existence of God (one of the more interesting of which has been the “ontological” argument), and I don’t see a problem with that either. I think it is a good thing that Christians in the past have been interested in God, thinking about God, discussing God, and tried to find ways of proving the existence of God. I think it was a good thing. They could have been doing something a lot worse than that I am sure.

“3. God is Eternal. This does not mean, in classical theism, that God just goes on and on, but that it is timeless. There is no time for it, meaning no past or future; it does not experience temporal sequence. If there [w]as a past and future, then it would not be unconditional and would not has aseity and so forth.”

I am not sure that is an accurate expression of the theological concept; but to cut it short, the Book of Mormon affirms the timelessness of God: “all is as one day with God, and time only is measured unto men” (Alma 40:8). There are also many other passages in modern scripture (especially) which affirm the infinite and eternal nature of God. I have no problems with that doctrine either.

“4. God is Pure Actuality, meaning for it there is no potentiality. God is everything that it can possibly be.”

That is a very crude reference to the doctrine of the impassibility of God. Without going into detail, modern revelation affirms the doctrine of the impassibility of God. It essentially means is that God acts, but cannot be acted upon, which is affirmed by LDS scripture (2 Nephi 2:13-14, 26).

“5. God is Simple, meaning that it has no parts or is not a compound of anything.”

That might not be correct from an LDS theological perspective; although, depending on how it is perceived or expressed, an element of truth may be in it. Modern LDS scripture teaches that “intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be” (D&C 93:29). It also teaches that “The glory of God is intelligence, or in other words, light and truth” (D&C 93:36). Combined together, those verses suggest the existence of an uncreated, uncaused, primordial something called “intelligence, or light of truth” which has the attribute of light (i.e. simplicity), which underpins the attributes of divinity. If so, then underlining that as an attribute of divinity may not be too far off the mark. But assuming that it does contain an error, such an error would not make the whole of traditional Christian theology a “bad thing” or a worthless exercise. There are more good and true principles in traditional Christian theology than bad; and Latter-day Saints can benefit from the good bits, while at the same time using the greater knowledge gained through modern revelation to improve on and correct its errors. The great theologians of the past have made the contributions to it that they could. Latter-day Saints should acknowledge their good work, and add to it to make it better; not dismiss the whole thing as though it were all useless and of no value.

“6. God is Self-sufficient, meaning that it does not need anything, including us.”

That is a continuation of the “aseity” of God previously discussed; which, when it is correctly formulated, is sound Christian doctrine.

“7. God is Incorporeal or Immaterial, meaning It is not embodied, however one thinks of bodies or material things.”

That would not be correct; but that is a score of 2 against 14 so far in favor of classical theism! I am impressed (by classical theism!) 😀

“8. God is Impassive, meaning that it is wholly apathetic about everything.”

Not sure where that comes from; but it appears to be an incorrectly formulated extension of the doctrine of the impassibility of God, which when correctly formulated is true Christian doctrine.

“9. God is Wholly Other, meaning it is not like anything we can possibly experience.”

The trouble here is that he is rattling off these descriptions without reference to any source, and there is no guarantee that they are correctly or accurately formulated, or that all theologies and theologians are in agreement on them. There is more than one school of theology, and all theologians are not always in agreement, or would formulate a concept in the same way. Unless we know the source of his information, it is hard to judge.

“10. God is Omnipotent, meaning that God has all power.”

Definitely correct and sound doctrine, no question about it.

“11. God is Omniscient, meaning God knows everything.”

Also correct on all accounts. (And omnipresent too, which he seems to have forgotten.)

“12. God is Creator and we are mere creature, meaning it created everything out of nothing and at that moment determined everything that can ever possibly happen.”

That contains three separate statements that needs to be dealt with separately:

(a) God is the creator of all things, absolutely correct!
(b) “Out of nothing” would not be correct, but a less important issue than (a). The most important consideration by far is that God is the creator and upholder of all things, which is repeatedly attested to in those terms in scripture. The scriptures (ancient and modern) repeatedly testify that God is the creator and upholder of “all things”. How that “all things” is perceived is a less important issue than the fact that God is the creator of “all things” according to revealed scripture.
(c) “At that moment determined everything that can ever possibly happen” is questionable, and sounds more like hyper Calvinism.

“13. God is really Real, while everything that it created is only real depending on the degree to which it participates in the ground of what is the only ultimate Reality.”

Again, he is expressing things imprecisely in his own words, which theologians may not agree with. Theologians usually try to be precise in their expressions. I would need to know what the source of his information is before passing judgement. But in general, I would say that I have no difficulty accepting God as the ultimate source of all created reality. 

“14. God is Changeless.”

Absolutely correct and sound doctrine, and fully attested in the Bible as well as in modern LDS scripture. God is indeed immutable and unchangeable according to scripture. He then continues:

“In the various often competing and conflicting theologies that rest on classical theism, there are, of course, a host of disagreements about fine points. But it is clear that no petition addressed to God can really be heard, and none can possibly be answered, since that would entail a future and change and so forth.”

That is entirely incorrect and unjustified. I don’t know of any respectable theologian or theology book that would teach such a doctrine. Even hyper Calvinists, who believe in absolute predestination, would shy away from teaching such a doctrine, which goes contrary to everything taught in the Bible. He continues:

“The future for human beings, understood as mere creatures, is wholly determined by the Sovereign God at the moment of creation. This explains why classical theists insist that God must not be involved with a plan, since planning and working to achieve what is planned runs directly in the face of about half of the what classical theists attribute to God.”

The first sentence describes hyper-Calvinism, which is not a majority opinion; and the rest is questionable. I did a search, and found several non-LDS Christian sites that talk about a “plan of salvation”.

“One final note: the passion with which classical theists have pushed their picture of the divine attributes can be seen in those instances in which theologians have insisted that nothing can be affirmed about God. One can only say what God is not. This is called the via negativa (or negative way). After insisting on this notion, theologians then write fat books about Divine things.”

Again, he is teaching very questionable stuff without providing a source. Christian theologians have a lot to say about God, as he has noted, which they wouldn’t be able or want to do if they believed that nothing could be known about God. He continues:

“Conclusion: what is called Open Theism is a challenge to several of the divine attributes as set out above. This is good news for Latter-day Saints, since we need allies in our own conflict with classical theism.”

LOL! That is the craziest thing I ever heard. Open Theism is bad news for everybody, because it is false; and I see no “conflict” between “classical theism” and Mormonism. There is a lot more good in “classical theism” than bad; so I want to keep the good bits, and correct the bad bits with the help of modern revelation and make it better. He continues:

“This does not mean that every Open Theist has a single way of seeing things or that we agree with any of the various versions of Open Theism. But the fact is that we simply must agree with much of what Open Theists believe, since what Joseph Smith taught flies in the face of classical theism. …”

That makes absolutely no sense. He is saying that because what Joseph Smith taught “flies in the face of classical theism” (assuming it does), therefore Open Theism must be correct, or it must be a good thing, and should be supported by LDS. Where is the logic in that? And how does embracing one false theology helps you “combat” another false theology (assuming it is false)? The truth of course is that Open Theism is false, period. And what Joseph Smith taught does not “fly in the face of classical theism”. This is what Joseph Smith himself actually said:

“Have the Presbyterians any truth? Yes. Have the Baptists, Methodists, etc., any truth?  Yes. They all  have  a  little  truth  mixed  with  error.  We  should  gather  all  the  good  and  true  principles  in  the  world and  treasure  them  up,  or  we  shall  not  come  out  true  ‘Mormons.’”

The same applies to “classical theism”. There are bits in it that are correct and true, and bits that are not. There is more good in it than bad. I want to accept the good bits, and correct the bits that are not with the help of modern revelation and make it better. He continues:

“For the record, I believe that God knows everything that such a being can know, but I must admit that I have no idea what that means, since I am not all that sure about much of what I think I know or exactly how I know it.”

I know for sure what God knows because he has told us. He knows everything, including the future exhaustively. That is the bit of information that is relevant to the discussion.

In conclusion: I had heard of Louis Midgley by name before, but I had never read any of his writings until I came across his blog post on FairMormon, and decided to respond to it. So in order to become better acquainted with his views I read some more of his writings on theological matters that I was able to find online. I found that he had written an article on theology for the Encyclopedia of Mormonism which can be seen here

I also found that he had written an article on theology for the Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 8 (2014): vii-xxi, titled, “A Plea for Narrative Theology: Living In and By Stories,” a PDF version of which can be downloaded from here

After reading those I came to the conclusion that Louis Midgley is anti-theological! He is an anti-theologian (if there is such a thing; I am trying to invent a new word for something that has probably never existed before). He is allergic to the word theology wherever it occurs. Doing theology for him is a sin! Anything that is labelled theology, or has the word theology written on it or in it is bad news as far as he is concerned. I have nothing against him personally. I am sure he is a very good, honorable, and decent individual. But he is the last person on earth I would trust to advise Latter-day Saints on matters pertaining to theology. Asking him to write an article for the Encyclopedia of Mormonism on theology would be like asking Pontius Pilate to write an article on Jesus Christ. Latter-day Saints will never be able to make the great contributions to the development of Christian theology which otherwise they will be able to make if they are going to start off with that kind of wrong attitude towards Christian theology that he is advocating.

Revised February 12, 2018.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Open Theism vs. Calvinism—A Tale of Two False Theologies!

Following my previous post, in which I had discussed Open Theism from an LDS perspective; I searched a bit more, and discovered that the most heated debates and disagreements have been taking place between Open Theists and Calvinists. Calvinists have been the most vocal critics of Open Theism; and the most heated exchanges have been taking place between those two. What makes these exchanges particularly interesting is that both Calvinism and Open Theism are false theologies, and it is amusing to watch them tie each other into knots which neither of them are able to escape from.

I also found a site called which lists three debates on YouTube between supporters of Open Theism and its opponents (all of them Calvinists), the first of which can be seen above, and two further ones listed below:

The latter two are long, three hour debates between Will Duffy (site owner) and Matt Slick of They are entertaining to watch. 

I also found a long list of scriptures, under 33 different categories, published on the site which they reckon supports Open Theism, which can be seen hereThen I found another list of scriptures by John M. Frame on another site which seemed to be doing a good job of refuting them. It can be seen here.

On further searches I discovered that John M. Frame is a well-known Calvinist theologian who has written a book in refutation of Open Theism called No Other God: A Response to Open Theism, which seems to have received good reviews (I haven’t read it). However, being a Calvinist he is going to be a supporter of predestination, and a denier of libertarian freewill (as is evident from some of the reviews of his book on Amazon), which in turn means that his book has been heavily compromised. Having to choose between Calvinism and Open Theism is like having to choose between a rock and a hard place.

In Mormonism, you don’t have to choose between divine sovereignty and libertarian freewill. It is possible to reconcile the two without compromising either. But if I had to choose between Open Theism and Calvinism, I would consider Open Theism the lesser of the two evils. Believing in a flawed and compromised version of libertarian freewill is a lesser evil than believing in the absolute determinism and predestination of Calvinism. Calvinism turns God into an evil monster barely distinguishable from the devil; while Open Theism strips him of his divine power, and turns him into an absent-minded gentleman with good intentions who is not beyond committing a few minor sins occasionally. If I had to choose between the two, I think would choose the latter option rather than the first.

Calvinists can never property defeat Open Theism because of their belief in predestination. Both Calvinism and Open Theism thrive on predestination—but at opposite ends of the scale. Calvinism thrives on predestination because it is a fundamental tenet of the faith without which it could not exist. Open Theism thrives on predestination because it’s basic tenet is the negation of predestination in order to maintain human freewill—but goes about it the wrong way. It attempts to negate predestination by equating it with (and hence denying) God’s foreknowledge, which are not the same thing. God’s foreknowledge does not imply or necessitate that the future should be predetermined or predestined, or that man’s will is not free.

And for the record: The “God of Mormonism,” that both James White and Matt Slick keep referring to in the videos, is not any of the things that they say he is. He is everything that the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and other LDS scriptures say that he is. He is all the “omnis” and the “ims”. He is “omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient, without beginning of days or end of life” (LoF 2:2). He is immutable and unchangeable “from all eternity to all eternity” (Moroni 8:18); and “His purposes fail not, neither are there any who can stay his hand; from eternity to eternity he is the same, and his years never fail” (D&C 76:3-4). He “knoweth all things” (1 Nephi 9:6; 2 Nephi 2:24; 9:20; WoM 1:7; Alma 7:13; Mormon 8:17; D&C 35:19; 38:2; 42:17; 93:28; Moses 6:61); and “all things are present before [his] eyes” (D&C 38:2). He “[knows] the end from the beginning” (Abraham 2:8). He is “from everlasting to everlasting” (Moroni 7:22). He does not “progress,” he does not “change,” and he does not learn anything new. He is 100% sovereign over all of his creation, and at the same time is able to grant freewill and moral agency to all his creatures. He is neither the malevolent monster of Calvinism scheming to damn mankind “for his own glory;” nor is he the kindly gentleman of Open Theism stripped of divine power scratching his head wondering what to do next.

Revised March 5, 2018.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Mormonism and Open Theism—Are They Compatible?

I have already touched upon the emergence of Open Theism, or the “openness of God” theology within Evangelicalism in another post, in connection with another subject that I was discussing (see here); but since it is a subject that seems to have drawn the attention (often a favorable attention) of LDS scholars and thinkers,* it is a subject that is worth examining in more detail from an LDS perspective.

Open Theism is a relatively recent theological development in Evangelical circles in the past decades, the core element of which is that God does not know the future exhaustively, because to do so would imply man’s inability to make free choices. It would imply that the future is predetermined and fixed, and therefore man’s decisions are not freely made. It is an attempt to resolve the age-old dilemma of reconciling divine sovereignty with human freewill. It attempts to do so by limiting God’s sovereignty, rather than by curtailing man’s freewill. It does not allow for a third solution that preserves both. That is the core element of it. Everything else that has been added to it is window-dressing in order to give it the appearance of a coherent, self-consistent theological system. It also likes to portray itself as a much older system of thought in Christian theology than it really is. While there may have been one or two oddball characters in Christian history who may have expressed similar views, I am not aware that there has been a concerted attempt in the past to challenge traditional Christian theism with something resembling the Open Theism of today.

I have already discussed the theological problems of reconciling divine sovereignty with human freewill (and proposed a solution to it) in another post which can be seen here. One of the most difficult theological issues that has challenged Christian theologians has been reconciling divine sovereignty with human freewill, because the two appear to be incompatible. Calvinism’s answer to that is to deny human freewill altogether. It asserts that everything has been predestined, and man is not free. God has predetermined from creation who will be saved and who will be damned, and there is nothing that anyone can do to change it. That is Calvinism’s answer to that problem (which is equally false, and which Mormonism rejects).

Open Theism goes to the other extreme, and attempts to resolve that problem by limiting God’s sovereignty instead, rather than limiting human freewill. It teaches that God does not know the future exhaustively, because if he did that would imply that the future is fixed (closed), which in turn would curtail man’s ability to make free choices. According to this theology God knows the future only partially, or as a series of contingent possibilities, and discovers the full extent of it in the course of time. The following quote is from Clark H. Pinnock (1937–2010), an ardent advocate of Open Theism; in conversation with David L. Paulsen, LDS scholar and academic. It comes from an article titled, “Open and Relational Theology: An Evangelical in Dialogue with a Latter-day Saint,” published in BYU Studies Quarterly, Volume 48:2 (2009), PDF download here. Here is the quote (emphasis added):

“David  and  I  are  quite  close,  and  find  debating  partners within  our  own  groups  on  the  subject  of  divine  omniscience.  Were  it  the case  that  God  possessed  exhaustive  definite  foreknowledge,  it  would  mean that  the  future  is  completely  settled,  and  no  issues  need  to  be  resolved. It leaves  no  room  for  the  historical  biblical  drama,  or  to  our  own  dignity  to make  contributions  as  co-laborers  with  God. It  prevents  us  from  being possibility  thinkers,  and  makes  us  into  a  people  of  resignation,  as  if whatever will be, will be.”

So he sees God’s foreknowledge to be incompatible with human freewill. He is unable to reconcile the two so as to preserve both. He cannot allow for the possibility that man’s choices might be freely made, and yet God knowing in advance what those (free) choices might be. An interesting article in Wikipedia on Open Theism explains it as follows (words in square brackets added):

“In short, open theism says that since God and humans are free, God’s knowledge is dynamic, and God’s providence flexible. While several versions of traditional theism picture God’s knowledge of the future as a singular, fixed trajectory; open theism sees it as a plurality of branching possibilities, with some possibilities becoming settled as time moves forward. Thus the future, as well as God’s knowledge of it is open (hence ‘open’ theism). Other versions of classical theism hold that God fully determines the future, entailing that there is no free choice (the future is closed) [i.e. Calvinism]. Yet other versions of classical theism hold that even though there is freedom of choice, God’s omniscience necessitates God foreknowing what free choices are made (God’s foreknowledge is closed) [i.e. non-Calvinist theologies, including possibly LDS].” Link.

Open Theism also denies the divine attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence; as well as the immutability and impassibility of God. Open Theism is not honest theology, because it changes its shape in order to appeal to the widest possible audience. It presents itself one way in order to appeal to LDS, and another way in order to appeal to Evangelicals or others. This is evident from the interactions of Clark H. Pinnock and David L. Paulsen, which appeared in the article published in BYU Studies mentioned above (see also “A New Evangelical Vision of God: Openness and Mormon Thought” by Paulsen and Fisher, download PDF here)—and several LDS scholars have fallen for it! For the rest of this post I am going to analyze Open Theism in more detail in the light of LDS revelation, and see how it compares.

The most important element of Open Theism, without which it would not exist, is the idea that God does not know the future exhaustively. He has some ideas, and knows all the possible contingencies, but doesn’t know definitively which course will be taken until he gets to it, or until man begins to make his choices. If that doctrine can be proven false, Open Theism dies with it. And modern LDS scripture does precisely that. It kills it off instantly by demonstrating conclusively that God’s foreknowledge is exhaustive. There are several passages in LDS scripture that demonstrates God’s ability to know the future exhaustively, including the choices that men will (freely) make. Indeed, God knows the future so completely that he is able to show it to prophets in a vision like an unfolding drama, in minute detail like a movie. One of these examples is the vision of the future that God gave to Nephi in the Book of Mormon. The complete vision covers chapters 11 to 14 of 1 Nephi, which would be too long to quote. The following is a snippet from chapter 12 (punctuation revised):

1 Nephi 12:

1 And it came to pass that the angel said unto me, Look, and behold thy seed, and also the seed of thy brethren. And I looked, and beheld the land of promise; and I beheld multitudes of people, yea, even as it were in number as many as the sand of the sea.
2 And it came to pass that I beheld multitudes gathered together to battle, one against the other; and I beheld wars, and rumors of wars, and great slaughters with the sword among my people.
3 And it came to pass that I beheld many generations pass away, after the manner of wars and contentions in the land; and I beheld many cities, yea, even that I did not number them.
• • •
11 And the angel said unto me, Look! And I looked, and beheld three generations pass away in righteousness; and their garments were white, even like unto the Lamb of God. And the angel said unto me, These are made white in the blood of the Lamb, because of their faith in him.
12 And I Nephi also saw many of the fourth generation, who passed away in righteousness.
13 And it came to pass that I saw the multitudes of the earth gathered together.
14 And the angel said unto me, Behold thy seed, and also the seed of thy brethren.
15 And it came to pass that I looked, and beheld the people of my seed gathered together in multitudes against the seed of my brethren; and they were gathered together to battle.
• • •
19 And while the angel spake these words, I beheld and saw that the seed of my brethren did contend against my seed, according to the word of the angel; and because of the pride of my seed, and the temptations of the devil, I beheld that the seed of my brethren did overpower the people of my seed.
20 And it came to pass that I beheld and saw the people of the seed of my brethren, that they had overcome my seed; and they went forth in multitudes upon the face of the land.
21 And I saw them gathered together in multitudes; and I saw wars, and rumors of wars among them; and in wars and rumors of wars I saw many generations pass away.

For God to be able to show a vision of the future to Nephi in such detail, which includes the outcome of people’s future (free) choices, he must know the future exhaustively, which in turn negates Open Theism. In Open Theism that kind of foreknowledge is impossible—without abrogating human freewill. The next example comes from the Book of Moses, and a similar vision that God gave to Moses (punctuation revised):

Moses 1:

8 And it came to pass that Moses looked, and beheld the world upon which he was created. And Moses beheld the world, and the ends thereof, and all the children of men which are and which were created; of the same he greatly marveled and wondered.
9 And the presence of God withdrew from Moses, that his glory was not upon Moses, and Moses was left unto himself; and as he was left unto himself, he fell unto the earth.
10 And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself, Now for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.
• • •
27 And it came to pass, as the voice was still speaking, Moses cast his eyes and beheld the earth, yea even all of it; and there was not a particle of it which he did not behold, discerning it by the Spirit of God.
28 And he beheld also the inhabitants thereof; and there was not a soul which he beheld not; and he discerned them by the Spirit of God. And their numbers were great, even numberless as the sand upon the seashore.
29 And he beheld many lands; and each land was called earth; and there were inhabitants on the face thereof.

These again demonstrate God’s ability to know the future exhaustively, including the (free) choices that people make. In Open Theism that would be impossible. The last example I will quote is from the vision given to Enoch, from the same book (punctuation revised):

Moses 7:

21 And it came to pass that the Lord showed unto Enoch all the inhabitants of the earth; and he beheld and lo, Zion in process of time was taken up into heaven. . . .
• • •
23 And after that Zion was taken up into heaven, Enoch beheld and lo, all the nations of the earth were before him.
24 And there came generation upon generation; and Enoch was high and lifted up, even in the bosom of the Father and of the Son of Man. And behold, the power of Satan was upon all the face of the earth.
• • •
41 And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto Enoch, and told Enoch all the doings of the children of men. Wherefore Enoch knew, and looked upon their wickedness, and their misery, and wept; and stretched forth his arms, and his heart swelled wide as eternity, and his bowels yearned, and all eternity shook.
42 And Enoch also saw Noah and his family, that the posterity of all the sons of Noah should be saved with a temporal salvation.
43 Wherefore Enoch saw that Noah built an ark, and that the Lord smiled upon it, and held it in his own hand; but upon the residue of the wicked the floods came, and swallowed them up.
44 And as Enoch saw this, he had bitterness of soul, and wept over his brethren, and said unto the heavens, I will refuse to be comforted. But the Lord said unto Enoch, Lift up your heart and be glad, and look.
45 And it came to pass that Enoch looked; and from Noah he beheld all the families of the earth. And he cried unto the Lord saying, When shall the day of the Lord come? When shall the blood of the Righteous be shed, that all they that mourn may be sanctified and have eternal life?
46 And the Lord said, It shall be in the meridian of time, in the days of wickedness and vengeance.
47 And behold, Enoch saw the day of the coming of the Son of Man, even in the flesh. And his soul rejoiced, saying, The Righteous is lifted up, and the Lamb is slain from the foundation of the world; and through faith I am in the bosom of the Father; and behold, Zion is with me.
• • •
65 And it came to pass that Enoch saw the day of the coming of the Son of Man in the last days, to dwell on the earth in righteousness for the space of a thousand years.
66 But before that day, he saw great tribulations among the wicked; and he also saw the sea that it was troubled, and men’s hearts failing them, looking forth with fear for the judgments of the Almighty God which should come upon the wicked.
67 And the Lord showed Enoch all things, even unto the end of the world; and he saw the day of the righteous, the hour of their redemption, and received a fulness of joy.

These scriptures show that God knows the future exhaustively, including the future decisions that people (freely) make. He knows it so well that he is able to show it to Enoch in great detail like a movie—which in turn kills off Open Theism altogether. No doubt some, including Open Theists, will now argue that if the above propositions be true, then the future must be predetermined, otherwise God would not be able to know it exhaustively; but that is not a logical, or necessary requirement or conclusion. Man’s decision can be freely made, and yet the outcome still be known to a superior intelligence far in advance. God’s ability to know the future exhaustively, including man’s future choices, does not necessitate predestination or predetermination. One thing does not logically follow from the other. Some may find it hard in their minds to reconcile the two, but there is no logical necessity that they should be irreconcilable.

Modern LDS scripture, however, destroys Open Theism in more ways than one. Another thing that Open Theism does is that it denies the divine attributes of omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience, which modern scripture affirms. God has to be omniscient (including having exhaustive foreknowledge) in order to be omnipotent and omnipresent. If he does not have the first, he cannot have the second or the third. Modern scripture affirms that God is all of those. There are many passages of modern scripture that could be quoted, but I will confine it to these (punctuation revised):

1 Nephi 9:

6 But the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men. For behold, he hath all power unto the fulfilling of all his words. And thus it is. Amen.

2 Nephi 9:

20 O how great the holiness of our God! For he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it.

Mosiah 4:

9 Believe in God; believe that he is; and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth. Believe that he has all wisdom and all power, both in heaven and in earth. Believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.

D&C 38:

1 Thus saith the Lord your God, even Jesus Christ, the Great I Am, Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end; the same which looked upon the wide expanse of eternity, and all the seraphic hosts of heaven before the world was made;
2 The same which knoweth all things, for all things are present before mine eyes;
3 I am the same which spake, and the world was made, and all things came by me.

D&C 61:

1 Behold, and hearken unto the voice of him who has all power, who is from everlasting to everlasting, even Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.

D&C 100:

1 Verily thus saith the Lord unto you, my friends Sidney and Joseph, your families are well. They are in mine hands, and I will do with them as seemeth me good, for in me there is all power.

Abraham 2:

8 My name is Jehovah, and I know the end from the beginning, therefore my hand shall be over thee.

Lectures on Faith 2:

2. We here observe that God is the only supreme governor and independent being in whom all fullness and perfection dwell; who is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient, without beginning of days or end of life; . . .

Now omnipotence does not mean that God can do what is inherently illogical, inconsistent, impossible, or against his own nature. He cannot lie for example (Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29; Heb. 6:18; Titus 1:2; Enos 1:6; Ether 3:12); that is against his nature. He cannot sin, be unholy or unjust. He cannot make 2+2=5. He cannot will himself out of existence. He cannot build a rock so heavy that he cannot lift it himself. He cannot make something out of nothing (according to LDS revelation). That is not what is meant by God being omnipotent. But aside from those kinds of logical absurdities and inconsistencies, according to LDS scripture God is indeed omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, which also negates Open Theism. Likewise modern LDS scripture affirms the immutability and impassibility of God, which also negates Open Theism. Impassible does not mean unfeeling. It does not mean that God does not have emotions. It means that he cannot be acted upon (2 Nephi 2:13-14, 26). Thus LDS scripture discredits Open Theism on many fronts. It negates it completely—and LDS scholars who have pedalled this kind of nonsense ought to know better.

A deeper analysis of LDS scripture, however, enables us to gain an even deeper insight into the internal workings of divine omnipotence and omniscience, which Christian theologians may not have even considered. Modern LDS scripture teaches that God is not only able to know the future exhaustively (without infringing man’s freewill); but he is also able to make use of that foreknowledge to intervene into the future to change the course of events to achieve his own objectives—but still without infringing man’s freewill. In other words, even though God knows the future exhaustively, the future is still not closed! It is still open to the will of God to make changes to it, or alter its course as he sees fit—and to do so without infringing man’s freewill. This may sound bewildering at first, and counterintuitive; but evidently that is what God is able to do. There are a number of passages in LDS scripture that confirm this. Here is one (punctuation revised):

Moses 7:

50 And it came to pass that Enoch continued his cry unto the Lord saying, I ask thee, O Lord, in the name of thine Only Begotten, even Jesus Christ, that thou wilt have mercy upon Noah and his seed, that the earth might never more be covered by the floods.
51 And the Lord could not withhold; and he covenanted with Enoch, and sware unto him with an oath that he would stay the floods; that he would call upon the children of Noah.
52 And he sent forth an unalterable decree that a remnant of his seed should always be found among all nations while the earth should stand;

This event occurs in the course of God showing to Enoch a detailed vision of the future, thus demonstrating not only God’s ability to know the future exhaustively; but also to intervene in the future to alter the course of events to something other than what it otherwise would have been. It is mind boggling that God can do that, but evidently he can. That is what makes God omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. His power is infinite. He can do what he wants. He can look into the future, see how it unfolds exhaustively; and then decide to make changes to it so it turns out differently to what it otherwise would have been—and to do so without infringing man’s freewill. Another example is in the following verses (punctuation revised):

1 Nephi 9:

5 Wherefore the Lord hath commanded me to make these plates for a wise purpose in him, which purpose I know not.
6 But the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men. For behold, he hath all power unto the fulfilling of all his words; and thus it is. Amen.

Words of Mormon:

6 But behold, I shall take these plates, which contain these prophesyings and revelations, and put them with the remainder of my record, for they are choice unto me, and I know they will be choice unto my brethren.
7 And I do this for a wise purpose, for thus it whispereth me, according to the workings of the Spirit of the Lord which is in me. And now I do not know all things; but the Lord knoweth all things which are to come; wherefore he worketh in me to do according to his will.

D&C 10:

38 And now verily I say unto you, that an account of those things that you have written, which have gone out of your hands is engraven upon the plates of Nephi;
39 Yea, and you remember it was said in those writings that a more particular account was given of these things upon the plates of Nephi.
40 And now, because the account which is engraven upon the plates of Nephi is more particular concerning the things which, in my wisdom, I would bring to the knowledge of the people in this account;
41 Therefore you shall translate the engravings which are on the plates of Nephi, down even till you come to the reign of king Benjamin, or until you come to that which you have translated which you have retained;
42 And behold, you shall publish it as the record of Nephi; and thus I will confound those who have altered my words.
43 I will not suffer that they shall destroy my work; yea, I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil.
44 Behold, they have only got a part, or an abridgment of the account of Nephi.
45 Behold, there are many things engraven upon the plates of Nephi which do throw greater views upon my gospel; therefore it is wisdom in me that you should translate this first part of the engravings of Nephi, and send forth in this work.
46 And behold, all the remainder of this work does contain all those parts of my gospel which my holy prophets, yea and also my disciples, desired in their prayers should come forth unto this people.

What these verses reveal is God’s ability not only to look into the future, and see how it unfolds exhaustively; but to make use of that foreknowledge to change its course, so it works out differently than it otherwise would have done—and to do so without infringing man’s freewill.

God knew thousands of years before Joseph Smith was born that he was going to make that error of judgement by allowing Martin Harris to lose part of the translated work; and made arrangements to counter it so his purpose would not be frustrated—and did so without infringing man’s freewill. God had several options to solve that problem. One option might have been to cause Martin Harris to drop dead before he made the attempt. But he chose not to do it that way. He allowed them to make the mistake that they made, and learn from their mistakes; but at the same time made contingency arrangements to ensure that his purpose would not be frustrated.

An interesting question that arises from this discussion is that, if God can intervene into the future in that way, can he do so into the past? Can he go back in time, and make changes to events of the past, and thus change the course of subsequent history? Can he go back in time, and undo the Holocaust? Can he go back in time, and undo the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (and rewrite history thereafter accordingly)? Only God knows the answer to that question of course, and he hasn’t told us; but the logic of the argument implies that he should be able to. If he can intervene into the future in the way that he can, there is no logical reason why he should not be able to do so into the past. So it looks like not only the future may be “open” to God but also the past—and in ways that Open Theists could have hardly ever imagined. That is an interesting puzzle for clever Christian theologians to try to solve if they can. 😁

The answer to the original question, however, is that Mormonism is not compatible with Open Theism. They are poles apart. Mormon revelation teaches the absolute sovereignty, omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, and immutability of God; while at the same time maintaining the absolute freedom and moral agency of man. The correct way to reconcile the two was explained in the post which I had previously linked to.

Revised February 23, 2018.
*Among LDS scholars and apologists who are ardent supporters of Open Theism are Blake Ostler and Louis Midgley. But I think that if a survey was taken, the list would be much longer. Louis Midgley for example says in his FairMormon blog post, “But the fact is that Latter-day Saints are strictly Open Theists, if any group of believer fit that label.” Sorry, but this Latter-day Saint isn’t! I think he should just speak for himself. I see absolutely no point of common interest, doctrinally and theologically, between Open Theism and Mormonism. They are as far apart as East is from West, or North from South, or earth from heaven. Perhaps it would be a good idea if the LDS Church published one of their ubiquitous “essays” on their website, and put this error to rest once for all.