Philosophical Essays Against Open Theism

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Benjamin H. Arbour
Routledge Philosophy of Religion
  • New York, NY: 
    , September
     218 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Open theism (OT) is a controversial theological and philosophical account of divine providence and omniscience that has received extended theological and exegetical criticism. Although the essays of Philosophical Essays Against Open Theism “focus primarily on philosophical issues” using “analytic theology as a methodology,” some of these issues “have important implications for various theological doctrines” (6). OT cannot be defined at once because “there is no single, monolithic view which is open theism; rather, there are a variety of open theisms” (7). It suffices here to say that for all open theists “the future is epistemically open to God, which entails the denial that God does possess exhaustive definite foreknowledge,” and they “deny that God’s knowledge of the future is definite, although they differ among themselves as whether or not the future itself is definite” (7).

Editor Benjamin H. Arbour opens the book with his “Introduction” which offers a helpful overview of the debate and of the structure of the volume. In chapter 1, Eleonore Stump’s “The Openness of God: Eternity and Free Will” argues for the doctrine of divine eternity (which entails divine timelessness) and, more specifically, it shows “that a simple, eternal, immutable, impassible God can be as intimate with human beings and responsive to them as any open theist could desire” (35). In chapter 2, Sandra Visser (“God’s Knowledge of an Unreal Future”) argues against the claim according to which divine foreknowledge and free will are incompatible “in light of metaphysical presentism” (11). This chapter, although useful, is not always easy to follow. Arbour’s “A Few Worries About the Systematic Metaphysics of Open Future Open Theism” (chapter 3) clearly and rigorously argues that OT entails some questionable and radical reformulations of categories belonging to modal metaphysics and possible world theory.

Part two begins with David Alexander’s “Open Theism and Origins Essentialism” (chapter 4). Alexander argues for a version of origin essentialism called Generalized Origin Essentialism: “For a class of entities, if E is an entity from that class, and if C is causally upstream of E, then C’s existence or occurrence was logically necessary for the existence or occurrence of E” (72). This metaphysical principle, Alexander argues, is incompatible with a principle adopted by most versions of OT, the Asymmetry Thesis: “The part of the future that is determined by present and past events is secure in truth value and falls within the scope of omniscience whereas the parts of the future that remain undetermined by the present and past do not fall within the scope of omniscience and perhaps are not secure in truth value” (71). In chapter 5 we find Paul Helm’s “The ‘Openness’ in Compatibilism,” where the author argues that “compatibilism properly understood entails a degree of openness, not merely purely epistemic but essential as well” and that this “should satisfy all who desire their theology to be ‘open’” (80). In chapter 6 (“Foreknowledge, Freedom, and Vicious Circles: Anselm vs. Open Theism”), Katherin A. Rogers discusses what she calls “Anselm’s libertarian theory” (93) of free will and argues that such freedom is not only sufficient but also compatible with God’s foreknowledge. Rogers makes a good case against the circularity problem (101-107) raised as a possible objection to her grounding principle according to which “the truth about an a se choice, and hence knowledge about a se choice, can be grounded in or dependent upon only the actual choice itself” (93), even though it is not entirely clear how Roger’s position does not make “God’s knowledge of Peter’s choice somewhat contingent,” (107). Robert B. Stewart’s “On Open Theism, Either God Has False Beliefs, or I Can Know Something That God Cannot Know” (chapter 7) compellingly contends that, on OT, God has some false belief.

In chapter 8, James N. Anderson’s “‘May it Have Happened Lord!’: Open Theism and Past Directed Prayers” argues that past-directed prayers “are indeed coherent and answerable in principle” and that “if open theism were true, there would be no instances of answered” past-directed prayers (121). In chapter 9 (“Open Theism, Risk-Taking, and the Problem of Evil,” by Greg Welty), the author contends that, in spite of the claim of many open theists, the problem of evil is not alleviated but rather worsened and that, generally, theological determinism and Molinism have more success in facing the problem of evil (and, also, in facing the related evidentialist argument, problems with the doctrine of providence, moral motivation, etc.). Ken Perszyk’s “Open Theism and the Soteriological Problem of Evil” (chapter 10), Perszyk makes the case that Molinism is more successful than OT in facing the soteriological problem of evil (that is, in its basic form, whether the existence of a good God is compatible with the eternal damnation of created moral agents). In “Jesus Didn’t Die for Your Sins: Open Theism, Atonement, and the Pastoral Problem of Evil” (chapter 11), Keith Wyma shows how OT worsen the pastoral problem of evil rather than helping to deal with it (as it is often claimed by open theists) by showing how OT severely damage the meaning and efficacy of the substitutionary and atoning cross of Chris, damaging, in turn, the believer’s “assurance of the moral trustworthiness of God’s sovereignty in their lives” (198). This is a useful article also for those Christian theists who want to make a similar case against OT but who (contrarily to Wyma) hold to limited atonement.

Philosophical Essays Against Open Theism is a careful and detailed summa of the numerous philosophical and theological problems raised by OT. More than just that, the volume is also a constructive contribution inasmuch as it not only further explains old problems raised by OT, but also it brings to the reader’s attention new issues caused by the approach. Arbour has chosen a variegated group of scholars of different persuasions, a fact that helped to shed light from different perspectives on the problematic nature of OT. It is hoped that a paperback edition may be issued in the future so to make this useful volume more accessible to the public.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Marco Barone is an Independent Scholar.

Date of Review: 
January 23, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Benjamin H. Arbour is Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Weatherford College.


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