Recently, I spoke with someone who gave quite the defense for Open Theism and why he believed it fell within the bounds of evangelicalism. The concept of Open Theism is illustrated well by Greg Boyd in his book, Letters from a Skeptic:
“In the Christian view God knows all of reality—everything there is to know. But to assume He knows ahead of time how every person is going to freely act assumes that each person’s free activity is already there to know—even before he freely does it! But it’s not. If we have been given freedom, we create the reality of our decisions by making them. And until we make them, they don’t exist. Thus, in my view at least, there simply isn’t anything to know until we make it there to know. So God can’t foreknow the good or bad decisions of the people He creates until He creates these people and they, in turn, create their decisions.”
This view flies in the face of Orthodox Christianity, which believes the foreknowledge of God is exhaustive – not just that God knows the possibilities man may or may not choose, but He definitively knows in full the actions of human beings past, present, and future. Open Theism is a blatant attack on the nature and glory of God and puts an unholy emphasis on the sovereignty of man, instead of the sovereignty of God.
This fall, I am walking our students through the book of Jonah. Jonah is a book filled with the workings of our Sovereign God to save and rescue His people, despite human rebellion and their attempt at autonomy. Since the Fall of man this has been our human disposition: to dethrone God and assume the position of ultimate authority in our universe. And the Sovereign Savior of Jonah is presented as a God who isn’t surprised by Jonah’s rebellion, when he foregoes the command to go to Ninevah and instead sails towards Tarshish.
Nowhere do we see a God scrambling to put out Jonah’s fires in order to achieve His desired outcome of the repentance of the Ninevites. Instead, we see a loving, patient, Sovereign King who draws a rebellious heart back to Himself in the belly of a great fish, declaring that salvation belongs to Him alone. He delivers a rogue evangelist through the providential vomit of the great fish, in order to herald the righteousness of God to a wicked people in desperate need of the hesed love God so richly provides through faith. What an amazing God! To think that God can use that which actively rebels against Him – sin – to bring about His redemptive plan to rescue His children is baffling to me! Jonah gives us a glimpse of an all-powerful, loving God who sovereignly works through every detail of our lives to bring about His glory in all of life.
The story of Jonah takes the idea of Open Theism to its brittle knees. God is God and we are not.
Students need to know that the God of Jonah is the same God Isaiah describes: “It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in.” This is a God so other worldly that He is not surprised by anything. He is never caught off guard. He is a God who enters into the mess of our lives, often times created by our sin, and draws us back to the reality of His goodness, His grace, and His mission and purpose for our lives.
In a culture that reeks of Ninevite rebellion, our students need to see that God desires for His people to go into Ninevah (their schools, jobs, sports teams, neighborhoods, drama clubs, etc.) and herald the Good News of Jesus to a world longing for a peace and satisfaction that only the Gospel can truly provide.
Jonah teaches us that even when we seek autonomy and take things into our own hands and declare, “I think I know what is best for my life,” God in His grace invades our rebellious state. He calls us back into His presence for our joy and His glory. Jonah gives us hope that even though there is collateral damage from our sin and the sin of others, God is not surprised and is not overtaken by it. Proverbs 18:10 says, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.” We are safe in the refuge of our God, the God who knows the future in every detail, in every way, and is working out all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.
Finally, Jonah gives us a foreshadowing of the Sovereign Savior Jesus who, unlike Jonah, is perfectly obedient to the command of His Father, even to the point of death on a cross. And this Jesus who died on the cross and spent three days in the belly of Earth, victoriously rose again over Satan, sin, and death in order to offer us the freedom of life found in the forgiveness of sin and the righteousness of Christ. Jesus is better and greater and therefore the only hope we have in life and death.