Open Theism negates Gospel Truth

17 07 2010

Acts 4:28 “They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen”


First, God’s sovereignty over the death of Christ does not mitigate the guilt of the human conspirators. On the other hand, the malice of their conspiracy has not caught God flat-footed, as if he had not foreen the cross, much less planned it. The text plainly insists that God’s sovereignty is not mitigated by human actions, and human guilt is not exculpated by appeal to divine sovereignty. This duality is sometimes called compatibilism: God’s utter sovereignty and human moral responsibility are compatible. Complex issues are involved, but there can be no serious doubt that this stance is either taught or presupposed by the biblical writers.

Second, in this case it is doubly necessary to see how the two points hang together.  If Jesus died solely as a result of human conspiracy, and not by the design and purpose of God, it is difficult to see how his death can be the long-planned divine response to our desperate need.  If God’s sovereignty over Jesus’ death means that the human perpetrators are thereby exonerated, should this not also be true wherever God is sovereign?  And then where is the sin that needs to be paid for by Jesus’ death?  The integrity of the Gospel hangs on that element of Christian theism called compatibilism.

Extract from “For the Love of God – Vol. I“, by D. A. Carson, IVP. Reading for Acts 4, July 17th.



4 responses

18 07 2010
John Thomson

Thanks for a fine quote from Carson. In the hard situations of life in Scripture God’s people can sometimes be tempted to say – well God has nothing to do with this. I canunderstand fully why they wish to insist that this is not God’s doing. Our God is good and gracious and especially to his people – we do not wish to see him in our pain. There is the danger that he becomes malicious and malevolent in our minds as we suffer.

Yet I am not sure that it is a true comfort to remove him from the situation. Or having him sit back helpless in the background as Open Theistic views would have us believe. We trust him, even in the dark and cannot understand. To trust him is to acklowledge he is in control and knows what he is doing. That is why again and again in the Psalms when the writer finds himself in a hard and difficult place he cries to God and even questions him. He does so because he believes that all the circumstances of his life are in the final analyses under the Lord’s providential guidance. He may not understand. It may be incomprehensible to him. But he trusts. In the words of Job, ‘Though he slay me yet will I trust him’. Satan was the one directly harassing Job but Job knew Satan could do nothing except by the Lord’s permission. He sees his sorrows as those that the Lord has in his mystery permitted but dermines to trust nonetheless.

A biblical theodicy of suffering is fairly easy to reach but far more difficult to experience and endure. We find grace to do so only in Him.

18 07 2010

Does one instance of God planning an event, written in scripture, necessitate that God therefore must plan every event? The logic I believe is faulty. I understand your emphasis on trust, but surely we trust God IN events because of who He is, without necessarily think that He planned for that an event to play out the way that it has.

23 07 2010

Taken to its conclusion [and taking things slightly off topic!] open theism also throws an unhealthy burden upon God’s people. For example, I believe prayer is of utmost importance as we live the Christian life and deal with the highs and the lows that John alludes to but to promote the concept that God’s ‘undetermined’ actions in the future are dependent upon the prayers of His people now [which some open theists hold to] I don’t believe is helpful pastorally. It may give a glimmer of hope in the present but what of when one is ‘prayed out’ over a situation or spiritually exhausted and even after that the final outcome is grim or there is no real breakthrough? Have we not done enough to invoke our God into action? Instead we rely on God’s sovereignty and make our humble requests [and at times demands if we read the Psalms] before a Father who knows what we need….and the Holy Spirit prays on our behalf. I’ve not thought this one through entirely [which is a danger on the blog scene as I’ve seen before!!] but in the complexity of God’s sovereignty and man’s choice I believe prayer changes things……but that is not the same thing as arguing that God depends upon our prayers to operate in future events.

23 07 2010
John Thomson


I would make a couple of points.

Firstly, the one event Allan highlighted is an extremely significant one. If God could in some sense have purposed such an atrocious thing as the death of Jesus then at least in principle nothing else we think of as awful need be outside his sovereignty.

Secondly, this text and example is by no means isloated. In reading the Bible text after text stresses God’s soverignty in the events of life. The belief in this sovereignty by the biblical authors has a twofold effect. Firstly, it often causes the authors to agonize over hard things that happen. They agonize precisely because they believe these hard things are not simply the result of secondary causes but can be traced back to God’s sovereignty. Secondly, because they believe that the events of life – good and bad – happen under God’s providential ruling they derive great strength and comfort. They are in God’s hands. If bones are broken then he has done so (or permitted it). And he is able to bring benefit and blessing and release.

I know it is easy to say this when all is well and I know suffering makes this harder yet it is the biblical teaching from beginning to end that nothing happens outside of his sovereignty. He rules in every realm and sphere.

Below is a link to an essay which is really simply a list of biblical texts making this point.

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