The God who determines everything is the God who determines nothing.
These were the words I posted in response to a Reformed member of a discussion board to which I belong. The statement was in response to one of the infinite number of similar threads devoted to discussing issues of predestination, foreknowledge, freedom of human will, etc.
Almost instantly, I was bombarded with the predictable host of flames, some saying I was obtuse, others saying I was a troll seeking to undermine Calvinism at any cost, and even the obligatory accusation of Pelagianism. One thoughtful individual (a Calvinist, no less!), actually asked me what I meant. I went on to explain that I believed that open theism (a theology particularly despised by the Reformed club) was the natural by-product of a rabid Calvinism. Flabbergasted by my assertion, this individual challenged me to explain.
In the following, I will seek to outline what I believe to be direct connections between Calvinism and the rise of Open Theism theology. It is my contention that instead of conceiving of the two in opposition to one another, it is more appropriate to conclude that open theism is actually the legitimate heir of Calvinistic theology, the logical conclusion of the theological and philosophical tenants established in the Reformed method.
Laying a Foundation
I. Calvinism
Calvinism is built upon the dual foundation of foreknowledge and foreordination. The Westminster Confession of faith clearly expresses the relationship:
3/I. God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass… 1
The words whatsoever comes to pass definitely and exhaustively communicates that absolutely nothing occurs apart from the divin e will. However, the divine will is not simply permissive, in that it allows things to come to pass; rather, the divine will, according to the Confession, actively ordains that which occurs in accordance with the divine will.
Moreover, the efficacy of that which God ordains is rooted in the infallibility of the foreknowledge of God. Again, the Confession:
5/I. God the great Creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least,by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy. 2
Therefore, God does not merely foreordain that which occurs, but rather does so upon the basis of the eternal foreknowledge that that which God foreordains will necessarily and infallibly come to pass. In other words, God can ordain history with complete confidence, for God has already experienced the fulfilment of that which God purposes from eternity to ordain.
II. Open Theism
Unlike Calvinism, open theism denies that all which occurs is definitively actuated on account of the application of the foreordaining and foreknowing will of God. Rather, the future is very much an open reality, coming into existence based upon the choice of free moral agents. Gregory Boyd, a well-known open theist theologian, describes this as follows:
“Much of it [the future], open theists will concede, is settled ahead of time, either by God’s predestining will or by existing earthly causes, but it is not exhaustively settled ahead of time. To whatever degree the future is yet open to be decided by free agents, it is unsettled.” 3
Here, Boyd agrees that some things may, perhaps, be predestined on the basis of the natural constitution of the world through divine, creative activity (i.e., it is predestined that humans will have lungs because of the environment in which they live). However, that which will occur if, say, one eats chocolate ice cream as opposed to vanilla, buys a house in Queens as opposed to one in the Bronx, or kills Hitler in 1932 is understood by open theists to be very much open and indeterminate.
This does not mean that God lacks omniscience. Rather, as the future does not exist 4 (for humans or God), it cannot be known and can not, therefore, accurately be a part of divine (or human, for that matter) knowledge.
III. Conclusion
The above has been an admittedly brief and incomplete description of the various and infinite nuances which are inherent to each particular theological programme. However, as I believe I have sufficiently illustrated above, there is a definite tension which exists between the two paradigms. While many will claim that the difference exists in relation to the valuation of nature of the human will, such misses the larger incongruity between the two theologies. Rather than anthropocentric, the greater issue of disagreement is that of the nature of God in relationship to the created order.
Calvinism begins from the supposition that because God is sovereign, God as creator must also infallibly ordain that which occurs in creation. To imagine that a single event could occur apart from the ordering of the divine will, within Reformed theology, is tantamount to denying the sovereignty of God. In the Calvinists mind, the precise ordering of all that occurs per the preordaining will of God is not only necessary because of Gods nature, but actually serves to maximally glorify God.
Unlike Calvinism, instead of proceeding from the point of Gods sovereignty, open theism rather emphasizes the creative work of God in the universe, painting a picture of a God who creates in order that creation can itself create. To the open theist, risk and freedom within the created order do not deny the sovereignty of God; rather, the fact that creation is free to be creation is a part of the divine will, regardless of the consequences of the precise course that is pursued.
The Problem of Sin and Evil
Among the range of critiques leveled at the Calvinistic view of Gods sovereign determination of all that occurs, chief among these has been the question of the origin and existence of evil. That is, if God not only creates all that exists, but moreover determines all that exists in its multifarious movements, it is difficult to conceive of how God cannot be understood to be the author and, more shockingly, the sustainer and director of evil.
To resolve this glaring incongruity, many Reformed thinkers appeal to Augustine, the fourth century doctor of the Church. Consider his words in the following:
&God does well even in the permission of what is evil&Although, therefore, evil, in so far as it is evil, is not a good, yet the fact that evil as well as good exists, is a good. For if it were not a good that evil exists, its existence would not be permitted by the omnipotent God& 5
Clearly, Augustine argues that the very existence of evil 6 is good, not because evil in itself is good, but rather because of the simple fact that God permits it to exist, for God, surely, would not allow the existence of that which is not good. 7
However, Augustine takes his logic only so far. Rather than following through to locating the precise mechanism of origin in the work and will of God, Augustine hesitates, refusing to locate the causal nexus beyond the pride of the will. But how can a will, created good, become perverted if not enticed to become so by the direction of the sovereign God? Augustine, at this point, declines to inquire further, noting:
Let no one, therefore, look for an efficient cause of the evil will; for it is not efficient, but deficient, as the will itself is not an effecting of something, but a defect. For defection from that which supremely is, to that which has less of being  this is to begin to have an evil will. Now, to seek to discover the causes of these defections  causes, as I have said, not efficient, but deficient  is as if some one sought to see darkness, or hear silence . . . 8
As seen, Augustine is ambivalent about the causal mechanism of the existence of evil, and dissolves the conversation before its logical conclusion in order to maintain the goodness of God. Reformed theology, on the other hand, goes well beyond Augustine, pressing the existence of evil to its logical conclusion. Consider the words of the Confession, again:
The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in His providence, that it extends itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, but such as has joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering, and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to His own holy ends… 9
Consistent with what has already been quoted from the Confession, this article clearly expresses the Calvinistic belief that all things that occureven ordination of sin and evilcome to pass by the express will of God. Moreover, it is not as if these occur simply by permission of the divine will; rather, they are necessarily directed by the will of God toward holy ends. Therefore, if God does truly ordain whatsoever comes to pass and that this extends even to the first fall, and all other sins, there is no other conclusion that one can reach but that God is originator of sin. In this way, Reformed thinking logically moves beyond Augustines hesitancy and locates the origin and direction of sin in the divine will itself.
To be sure, most Reformed thinkers deny such a conclusion. The Confession, for example, anticipates the accusation and notes,
…yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceeds only from the creature, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin. 10
In this sense, the Confession wishes to maintain a tension between the origination of sin and the effectual ordering of creation by God. However, the Confession does not go on to explicate exactly how this tension can be honestly maintained. After all, if it is by Gods decree that all thingsgood and evilcome to pass, from where comes the sinfulness of creature except from the predestining will of God? What evil principle can there which exists within the human person that is not there by Gods design?
Coming to terms with the relentlessness of this logical deduction, many Reformed thinkers attempt to circumvent the prickly issue of God as originator or sin by distracting from the conclusion by raising other questions. For example, A.W. Pink, one of the most prolific Reformed writers of the last century, answers the question of whether God is the author of sin in the following:
Then is God the Author of Sin? We would have to ask, in turn, What is meant by “Author”? Plainly it was God’s will that sin should enter this world otherwise it would not have entered, for nothing happens save as God has eternally decreed. 11
Instead of engaging the question directly, Pink simply raises another question. Knowing that the inevitable answer must be that God is the author of sin, Pink backs down from the question entirely, retreating into a propositional affirmation of the sovereignty of God. Although he attempts to find respite in the Augustinian affirmation of the place of evil within the goodness of Gods eternal purpose, Pink runs aground on the rock of his presupposition of the absoluteness of the predetermining will of God.
In a similar way, Piper circumvents the natural conclusion of the Reformed position, claiming, simply, that
…we are told nothing [in Scripture] about how the first actual sin of the universe occurred. And to me it is a great Mystery why any angelic being in the presence of God should ever cease to delight in God and instead seek joy in his own self-esteem. The ultimate origin of sin is shrouded in the darkness of eternity past. 12
By employing the language of eternity past, it is clear that Piper is alluding to the primordial, eternal decrees of God by which Calvinists believe all events to be ordered. However, recognizing the inevitable and logical conclusion of the Reformed position, Piper, like Pink, retreats into the sovereignty of God (eternity past), rectifying the origin of sin in the darkness (or mystery) of Gods sovereign relationship to that which God has created.
The Logical Move to Open Theism
The 17th, 18th and 19th centuries of human history were the breeding ground for the development of the Calvinistic approach to reconciling the problem of theodicy. Consequently, these were also centuries of great optimism and advancement in the human race in terms of technology, nation-building, human knowledge, etc. The Renaissance and Enlightenment opened up the human mind from its lethargy during the Dark Ages. Suddenly, an entire universe of knowledge was available to be explored. Concomitantly, the rise of scientific methodology provided a framework through which human knowledge could be categorized, examined, critiqued, and systematically built upon. This context of progress and advancement created a great spirit of pride and expectation in the human spirit and markedly characterized the thought and life of Continental Europe. Within this period of great growth and excitement in the future of human progress, the Calvinistic conception of determinism and theodicy must have been fairly easy to maintain. After all, was not the greater good of which Augustine had spoken being accomplished in history? Sure, there were setbacks and here and there, and wars and tragedies still continued to occur. However, on the whole, the eschatological future of the human race seemed quite bright, and the existence of sinfulness and evil were characterized as growing pains, the necessary gauntlet through which humanity would have to pass before realizing its ultimate deification.
Nonetheless, the turn of the new century brought about a swift disillusionment. Within the first half of the century, all the major nations of the world had been engulfed in two world wars that redefined the very nature and horror of war. The gas chambers of Aushwitz revealed the utter hatred that improved scientific humanity was still capable of toward itself, and the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki quickly redrew the lines for the potential of humanity to destroy itself instantly.
Not surprisingly, in the fallout of these disasters, the perennial question of theodicy was again raised. However, this time it was magnified to a degree never before imagined possible. Classical theodicys fell apart instantly: How could a good God eternally ordain the horrors of the German prison camps, the Soviet gulags, and the incineration of hundreds of thousands in the fires of the A-bomb? The suggestion that this could somehow be part of a grander plan for good was utterly and vitriolically rejected, for what good could possibly come from the brutal and violent deaths of the millions across dozens of nations through two world-engulfing wars? The answer, affirmatively and without hesitation, was none.
Many contemporary writers have seized upon the conceptual difficulties of classical theodicies and have severely critiqued them, showing them to be entirely inadequate to address the existential problem of human suffering.
For example, Charles Hartshorne, in his book, Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes, attacks the classical Calvinistic conception of Gods predetermining relationship to creation. In Hartshornes thinking, the traditional discussion of Gods eternal, determining will has led to nothing but a picture of God as cosmic despot, 13 sovereignly determining every possible thing that occurs, eliminating the potential for human freedom. However, if this is truly how God is related to the world, there is no way, in Hartshornes thinking, to avoid the implication that God, alone, is the source of evil in the world. Nelson Pike notes similar conceptual problems with the concept of Gods all-determining will, but pushes the rhetoric farther, noting that,

If God alone has power, then he alone is responsible [for evil]. Given that someone in the world is to be blamed, [God] is really the only one it could be. 14

In light of critiques listed above, theologians who wrestled with this problem and were themselves proponents of the classical theodicies of Calvinistic flavor needed a way out of the conceptual absurdity of their position in light of the disillusionment of the post-Enlightenment optimism. The answer, to many, came in the form of open theism.
In open theism theodicy, the goodness of God is more easily preserved for the phenomological discussion of event in reality is no longer based upon the eternal, determining decrees of God. Rather, God is understood to have infused the Creation with a creativity and freedom that is real, and not merely the façade of an underlying predestined will. In this sense, human creatures are truly free to choose moral actions that are within their ability to actuate. However, Gods sovereignty is concomitantly preserved, for the very freedom of human choice is based upon the divine will coming to pass within the created order.

Sanders, in describing this dynamic, offers the following description of the open theism conception of human freedom and theodicy:
“God, in grace, grants humans significant freedom to cooperate with or work against God’s will for their lives, and he enters into dynamic, give and take relationships with us….God takes risks in this give-and-take relationship& 15
As mentioned, such a perspective provided a way out for classical theodicies. While the horrors exacted by Hitler upon the Jews, within the constructs of classical theodicies, was itself directed by the will of God for the fulfillment of a greater good, the open theism argument rejects such determinism. Rather, the horrors perpetuated by Hitler are very much Hitlers own decisions; therefore, the moral responsibility is also squarely laid upon his shoulders. Moreover, to those that would criticize the God of open theism for neglecting to prevent Hitler from acting in such a way, the response is that such horror and evil is the potential price of Gods good will in creation to allow for the freedom of human will and decision.


1. Westminster Confession of Faith. Chapter III, Article I.
2. Westminster Confession of Faith. Chapter V, Article I.
3. Gregory A. Boyd, God of the Possible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2001), p. 15.
4. It should be noted that not all open theists believe that God does not know the future. Rather, some envision that God fully knows the future, yet limits divine knowledge concerning the future, so as to allow human freedom.
6. It must be noted that Augustine does not necessarily view evil as a thing which has ontological existence unto itself. Rather, evil, to Augustine, is the perversion of good. Therefore, it cannot be a thing created by God, and therefore, Gods goodness is preserved even in the face of the existence of the perversion of good.
7. For Augustine, the goodness of creation was entirely reflective of Gods perfection. To deny that a part of creation was good would, for Augustine, be tantamount to denying the perfection of God.
8. Augustine, City of God, Book 7, Chapter 7
9. Westminster Confession of Faith. Chapter V, Article IV.
10. Ibid.
11. A. W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God.
12. John Piper, The Emergence of Sin and Misery,
13. Charles Hartshorne, Omnipotence and other Theological Mistakes (Albany: State
University of New York, 1984), 12.
14. Nelson Pike, Over-Power and Gods Responsibility for Sin. In The Existence & Nature of God. Studies in the Philosophy of Religion. No. 3. Ed. Alfred J. Freddoso. Norte Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983. 11-35, 12.
15. From John Sanders, The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God (Intervarsity Press, 1994).