Open Theism is an unbiblical heresy. It is the belief that God does not know the future. He created the world, not knowing what would come of it, and is learning the events of history as they unfold. This is obviously not the teaching of Scripture. Yet, it is the only consistent position one is really left with if one denies Reformed theology.
If we are not Open Theists and we affirm that God knows all things, then we affirm that God knows the future exhaustively. But if God knows the future exhaustively, this presupposes that the future is determined. We cannot speak of God having “knowledge” of future events if those future events are not necessarily determined to take place.
Sometimes critics will respond by using an analogy something like the following. “My son loves chocolate. He hates his vegetables. I know that if I put chocolate and broccoli before him on the table and tell him to pick whichever one he wants to eat, he is going to pick the chocolate. I know that this is going to happen before it actually happens, but that doesn’t mean that I determined that it would happen. God can know what we are going to do but that doesn’t mean He determined that we would do it.”
The first problem with this analogy, however, is that the “knowledge” is not associated with the proper thing. The father in this situation does not have knowledge of the fact that the son will choose chocolate over broccoli. It is quite possible that the son might surprise his father and choose the broccoli. What the father actually has knowledge of is only the possibility, or even probability, that the son will choose one option over the other.
Therefore, this is not a proper analogy, because if God has exhaustive knowledge of the future, then He doesn’t simply know of the probability that I might choose to do something; rather, He knows of the fact that I will choose to do one thing over another. And to have knowledge of that fact presupposes that while it might be conceivable for me to choose something else, it is not actually possible that I may do so. The future choice must in some sense be determined already, or it cannot be said that God has certain knowledge of the fact of its occurrence.
A second problem with the analogy is that it misapprehends how God knows what He knows. In the analogy, the reason the father knows what the son will probably choose is because the father has analyzed the son, learned about the son, and made a prediction based on these findings. But according to Scripture, the very demonstration of God being God is founded on His knowledge of the future. In other words, God knows the future exhaustively because He has decreed the end and all things that lead up to it. He doesn’t just have this magical power where He knows the events of the future because He can look down the corridors of time and see what is coming before we do (as if to imply that some force independent of His providence determines events in time, and then He simply discovered them). The reason He knows all that will happen is because nothing can happen outside His providence. God’s knowledge is limited to what He Himself has purposed and planned. Thus, God has decreed all things, and therefore He knows all things because He knows what all He has planned.
So the analogy fails, and by the way it reveals one of the common problems with Arminian argumentation. And that is that the analogy is based on a philosophical speculation about how things might be, and not on what Scripture declares about how things really are. God knows the future exhaustively. This means that He knows of the certainty of events that will occur in the future. But if future events can be known with certainty, then it follows that those events are already determined to happen. If it is possible (that is, actually, not potentially) for a certain future event to not happen, then it cannot be said that God knows that it will happen, and His knowledge must therefore be limited. This is why Open Theism, a non-Christian heresy, is the only consistent way of denying Calvinism.
So God knows all things because He has decreed all things. The future is determined and He already knows all the choices I will make in my life because they are already determined to be made. Of course, this raises a somewhat troubling question. How can we say that they are my choices if they are predetermined?
This is a good question, but it is a shame that many critics, without asking, merely assume that there is no answer when they raise the false accusation that “Calvinists believe that man does not have a will.” Calvinists do believe that man has a will, and the truth is we’re just following Scripture on this. Scripture teaches that man has a will (although that will is not free), but it also teaches that God has ordained all things, including the course of human decisions (Exod. 3:21; 12:25-36; 34:23-24; Ezek. 7:27; 2 Sam. 24:1; 1 Chr. 21:1; Gen. 45:5; 50:20; 1 Sam. 2:6-7; Gal. 1:15-16; Prov. 21:1; 16:1, 9, cf. Prov. 16:4). In Scripture we read of both actions occurring simultaneously. Men voluntarily make choices that God has preordained. Let’s consider just a couple of examples:
In Isaiah 10:5-14 God chooses to use Assyria to punish His people Israel, but then when He finishes this task, He turns right around and punishes Assyria for its sinful choice to come against Israel. How is this “fair”? Let’s look at the passage:
vv. 5-6: “Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger; the staff in their hands is my fury! Against a godless nation [Israel] I send him [Assyria], and against the people of my wrath I command him, to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.”
Here God has determined that He is going to use Assyria to brutally punish the rebellion of Israel. This is God’s determining action. But look at what the text says next:
vv. 7-11: “But he [Assyria] does not so intend, and his heart does not so think; but it is in his heart to destroy, and to cut off nations not a few; for he says: ‘Are not my commanders all kings? Is not Calno like Carchemish? Is not Hamath like Arpad? Is not Samaria like Damascus? As my hand has reached to the kingdoms of the idols, whose carved images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria, shall I not do to Jerusalem and her idols as I have done to Samaria and her images?’”
In other words, even though God determined that Assyria would come against Israel in judgment, Assyria at the same time willingly chose to do this. Assyria wasn’t looking to do God’s will. It simply thinks it is doing this on its own. So God didn’t drag Assyria against its will. Rather, it is already in the hearts of the Assyrians to destroy many nations and seize plunder. They are just doing what they love. And God had a purpose in which He determined He would use this sin. He hardens their hearts against Israel so that they will desire to go against them, just as they did against these other nations. In a single action there are two things happening: God determines the event, and Assyria chooses to do it. Assyria makes the choice willfully, believing that it is doing this of its own accord. But God had a purpose (that He would glorify Himself in the judgment of sin), and He hardened those Assyrians’ hearts in order that they would desire to do what was necessary for that purpose to be accomplished.
So God had preordained the willful choice of this people by placing the desire within their hearts upon which they would then act. He sent Assyria against Israel, and yet in this determinative action Assyria desires to do this thing, and acts on that desire willingly. This is God’s decree — He determined that it would happen — and yet at the same time, Assyria is still held responsible for the choice. We see this because right after God declares His intentions against Israel, he turns right around and says He is going to punish Assyria for the arrogant manner in which it does this thing:
vv. 12-14: “When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes. For he says: ‘By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I have understanding; I remove the boundaries of peoples, and plunder their treasures; like a bull I bring down those who sit on thrones. My hand has found like a nest the wealth of the peoples; and as one gathers eggs that have been forsaken, so I have gathered all the earth; and there was none that moved a wind or opened the mouth or chirped.’…”
My emphasis indicates the obvious arrogance with which Assyria does this. Even though God determined the action, the Assyrian king doesn’t recognize this; he is just doing what he loves to do, and in his arrogance thinks that he is the source of his own strength. So the Assyrian king is sinning, and is held responsible for that sin, even though it was God who determined that this would happen.
Let’s recap what just happened. God determined to bring Assyria against Israel to punish the rebellion of His people, but then He also determines to punish Assyria for carrying out the very act that He just determined for them to do! He purposed to make use of Assyria’s sinful desires, and then also chose to punish Assyria’s sin. The Assyrian king is held responsible for his own choice to do this thing, even though God had determined that it would be done. So God determined that this pagan king would make a particular choice, and yet the king is still held responsible for having made the choice. Men voluntarily make choices that God has preordained.
Consider another example in Acts 2:23:
“This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”
Once again, we see here, in a single sentence in fact, that God had determined that a particular event would take place — an event that would involve terrible sin — and yet the individuals who actually carried out the sinful acts are held responsible for having done so. Jesus died because God had determined that He would. But He also died because these sinful men killed Him. How do you reconcile the two? These men were natural born sinners. It is the natural desire of their hearts to rebel against God and to continue in their sin. God had determined that He would make use of this, by hardening their hearts so that they would desire to commit the act. And yet in doing so, the men who actually carried out the act are the ones to be blamed for the sin, not God.
This indicates that although God has predetermined the occurence of these choices, the choices themselves are still the responsibility of the individual making them. God has predetermined all things, including the future decisions of men. But the men who actually make those decisions still make them voluntarily, for they are only acting on the desires that God has placed within their hearts. In the case of righteous choices (e.g. choosing to repent and believe in Christ), God places the desire within the sinner’s heart (cf. Ezek. 36:25-27) and the sinner acts upon it willfully, having not been able to make such a choice otherwise (cf. John 6:44; Jer. 13:23). And in the case of sinful choices, sin is already the natural desire of the fallen heart, which means all God must do is harden that heart by withholding from it the grace that it doesn’t deserve in the first place, and the heart will necessarily, though willfully, choose to act upon that sinful desire, as we saw in Isaiah 10 and Acts 2:23.
In summary, there are two logically consistent options: Open Theism, the idea that God learns from His creation in time and does not have exhaustive knowledge, or Calvinism, which holds to the view that God has exhaustive knowledge of all things because He has decreed all things.
The former option is a heresy, as it denies the God of the Bible. The latter option, therefore, is the only consistent option left for the Christian. God has exhaustive knowledge of the future because He has decreed the future.
Further, this exhaustive knowledge of the future entails the determination of that future. If God has certain knowledge of the fact of future events and choices, then the fact of those future events and choices is already determined and cannot be changed. Thus, to consistently affirm that God knows all things one must also affirm that God has predetermined all things, and the events of the future will happen the way they do because they are all a part of God’s eternal plan to glorify Himself. Or to put it in other words, a consistent affirmation of divine omniscience must result in a denial of libertarian free will.
But a denial of human free will, as we have seen, is not a denial of the fact that man has a will. It is only a denial of the idea that the human will is capable of acting autonomously. The human will still makes voluntary choices — indeed, it chooses whatever it wants to choose. But even though those choices are voluntarily made according to the heart’s desire, they are still predetermined by God, for He determines the course of our hearts’ desires, upon which we freely act.