Neotheism and Evil:
Difficulties with the Problem of Evil.

 contact.gif© 2003, M. Calvert. All rights reserved


What is the Problem of Evil?

     From its birth at Pentecost almost two thousand years ago, Christianity has been continually challenged on both the philosophical and pastoral level by the stark reality of suffering and evil in the world.  How do those who claim the goodness and comprehensive sovereignty of God explain the fact that our world is pervasively evil and literally filled with instances of suffering, disease, tragedy, and horrific acts of violence? No one requires advanced powers of observation to realize that this world at times may be characterized as a terrible place to live. Yet, throughout these two millennia, believers in the Christian God have steadfastly maintained, despite the apparent evidence to the contrary, that God is both infinitely good and fully in command of the universe.[1] 

     The “problem of evil” touches each of these issues at its core.  It represents an apparent logical inconsistency with the claim that an omni-benevolent and all-powerful God exists in such a world littered with the debris and carnage of human suffering, not to mention that inflicted upon animals and the environment itself. The problem of evil sets forth the philosophical and practical challenge to understand how a good and powerful God, if He exists at all, could possibly allow His creatures to act as they do. Perhaps even more importantly, the problem of evil reveals the necessity of supplying a sufficient foundation for the discovery of meaning and purpose in the midst of the massive tribulation and pain that this world inflicts upon men and women without discrimination—suffering that God apparently permits or is powerless to stop.

     In reality, the problem of evil (PE), in both its logical and evidential expressions, is a disturbing perplexity intrinsically related to the existence of the Judeo-Christian God and His alleged attributes more than a dilemma regarding the mere presence of pain and suffering itself.  John Hick has insightfully observed this very point by noting that the PE

does not attach itself as a threat to any and every concept of deity. It arises only for a religion which insists that the object of its worship is at once perfectly good and unlimitedly powerful. The challenge is thus too inescapable for Christianity, which has always steadfastly adhered to the pure monotheism of its Judaic source in attributing both omnipotence and infinite goodness to God.[2]

Likewise, Ronald Nash, a Christian theologian and philosopher, lays out the specific challenges confronting theists in the following propositions:[3]

If God is good and loves all human beings, it is reasonable to believe that He wants to deliver the creatures He loves from evil and suffering.

If God is all-knowing, it is reasonable to believe that He knows how to deliver His creatures from evil and suffering.

If God is all powerful, it is reasonable to believe that He is able to deliver His creatures from evil and suffering.

The harsh realities of life, however, reveal that creatures loved by God do in fact suffer, apparently gratuitously in many cases, and often go to their graves unaware of any sense of purpose for their pain.  This fact, for many, provides a philosophical basis for the probability that the God of Christian theism simply does not exist, or is, at least, much less good and powerful than He is assumed to be by believers. 

     Typically, traditional Christian theism has confronted the deductive problem of evil by asserting that the existence of God and the presence of evil in the created order are not logically inconsistent propositions since God has good reasons for allowing evil to exist, and even flourish, in the world.  Alvin Plantinga, by means of his critically acclaimed “Free Will Defense,” has convincingly argued that the divine granting of moral freedom and responsibility to the creature necessarily entails the possibility of evil decisions and actions.[4] 

A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all.  Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely.  To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so [italics his].[5]

Most agree that Plantinga’s work on the PE has sufficiently answered the deductive form of the challenge. Other traditional Christian theists, taking a somewhat different approach in responding to both the inductive and deductive forms of the PE, have proposed that God’s sovereignty over the created order, including the choices and actions of moral agents, is logically consistent with the freedom to obey or disobey divine commands.  D. A. Carson, for example, presents the claims of what is known as theological compatibilism: 

1. God is absolutely sovereign, but his sovereignty never functions in such a way that human responsibility is curtailed, minimized, or mitigated.  2. Human beings are morally responsible creatures—they significantly choose, rebel, obey, believe, defy, make decisions, and so forth, and they are rightly held accountable for such actions; but this characteristic never functions so as to make God absolutely contingent.[6]

     It seems clear that traditional Christian theism (TCT), while proposing various responses to the PE, has tenaciously affirmed God’s all-encompassing sovereignty and unique attributes, namely His omnipotence and omniscience, even in the face of apparently gratuitous evils. More specifically, TCT recognizes that God possesses exhaustive and infallible foreknowledge of all future events, even the future choices and actions of moral agents.  Though there does exist some measure of disagreement as to the exact relationship between divine sovereignty and human freedom, proponents of TCT are consistent in their belief that God knows the future with absolute certainty. [7]

The Rise of Neotheism

     In recent years, however, another proposal regarding the PE has gained some degree of recognition and acceptance among Christian theologians and philosophers.  Desirous of maintaining libertarian, or contra-causal, freedom on the part of the creature, as well as absolving God of all responsibility for evil, neotheism has proposed a radical reconstruction of the doctrine of God.[8] Specifically, neotheists have argued that the classical definitions of both divine omnipotence and omniscience are seriously problematic for addressing the PE.  William Hasker provides the following explanation:

According to [neotheism]. . .  God knows that evils will occur, but he has not for the most part specifically decreed or incorporated into his plan the individual instances of evil. Rather, God governs the world according to general strategies which are, as a whole, ordered for the good of the creation but whose detailed consequences are not foreseen or intended by God prior to the decision to adopt them. As a result, we are able to abandon the difficult doctrine of “meticulous providence” and to admit the presence in the world of particular evils God’s permission of which is not the means of bringing about any greater good or preventing any greater evil [italics his].[9]

     In setting forth a unique and vastly distinct definition of the divine essence, neotheists have boldly claimed that theirs is a better approach to the PE.  Hasker, for example, confidently argues that the openness model is “in a better position than Calvinism or Molinism”[10] to deal with the issues surfaced by the PE.  In particular, it is asserted that TCT fails to absolve God of guilt or responsibility for evil and should, therefore, be abandoned in favor of the more attractive openness model of divine providence.[11] In his widely popular treatise on open theism, God of the Possible, Gregory Boyd goes so far as to assert that the PE, as far as it relates to Christian believers, is the tragic result of TCT’s consistent belief that all events have a specific divine purpose. He declares that it is precisely “this conclusion more than anything else that creates the problem of evil, for it immediately leads to the impermeable mystery of what purpose an all-loving God might have had for allowing atrocities such as the Holocaust” [italics added].[12]  Boyd, arguably the most popular of the movement’s theologians, seems to be saying that were it not for the wrongheaded and unbiblical presuppositions of TCT, there would be no PE. It is this rather stunning claim, that neotheism effectively solves the PE, which will be evaluated in this paper. 

Laying the Foundation: A Brief Overview of Neotheism’s Essential Doctrinal Affirmations

Neotheism and the Doctrine of God

     Grasping neotheism’s proposed solution to the PE demands a close scrutiny of its doctrinal affirmations regarding the divine nature and essence.  Of particular concern is the way openness theologians conceive of God’s omnipotence and omniscience.  While neotheists like Boyd frequently assert that there is fundamentally no difference between the openness understanding of the divine perfections and that of TCT, neotheism actually proposes radically divergent interpretations of divine power and foreknowledge.[13]


     On the surface, William Hasker’s definition of omnipotence—that God “can perform any action the performance of which is logically possible and consistent with God’s perfect nature”[14]—seems orthodox enough. However, upon closer examination, a unique feature of the openness position becomes evident. In the literature, neotheists consistently advance in various ways the rather interesting notion that God’s sovereign power enables Him to “do as he pleases, and this includes the freedom to limit himself” [italics added].[15] God is thus considered so powerful that He need not (or cannot) exercise the full range of His sovereignty to bring about His desired purposes in the world—purposes that are ultimately accomplished by a combination of both divinely predetermined events and unforeseen and undetermined human actions in time and space. Jack Cottrell explains this point:

A sovereign God is a God who is free to limit himself with regard to his works, a God who is free to decide not to determine if he so chooses, a God who is free to bestow the gift of relative independence on his creatures. Such freedom does not diminish God’s sovereignty; it magnifies it [italics added].[16]

Clark Pinnock applauds this brand of omnipotence as the preferred mechanism for the display of divine power and sovereignty:

Open sovereignty surely reveals God’s strength not weakness. It requires considerable power to rule an undetermined world. How marvelous to be able to respond to the unexpected and to deal with new situations as they arise! Open sovereignty requires omnipotence in its own way [italics added].[17]

     The concept of divine self-limitation finds fuller endorsement by Boyd. In a series of published letters to his father, Boyd responds to questions concerning God’s omnipotence by declaring that, subsequent to the creation of free moral agents, “God necessarily surrendered a degree of His power.”[18] According to Boyd, this measure of unilateral divine condescension was necessitated by the Creator’s desire to maintain the libertarian freedom of human beings created in His image. As a consequence of this self-imposed restriction, God does not “always get His way.”[19] In this regard, God may be said to be both omnipotent and sovereign in that He is fully able to place boundaries upon the exercise of divine power when it is necessary to safeguard the contra-causal freedom of human choices and actions. As Boyd sees it, it is “utterly impossible for God to be always in control, and yet allow free beings to exercise some control. Thus, to the extent that God ‘lends’ power away, He no longer utilizes it” [italics added].[20] Like Pinnock, Boyd believes that this version of omnipotence is a more fitting and praiseworthy model:

Far from diminishing his sovereignty, this understanding of God’s relationship to the world most exalts it. Some Christians use the word sovereignty as though it is synonymous with control. Hence any view (including classical Arminianism) that does not portray God as controlling everything by definition undermines God’s sovereignty [italics his].[21]

     It should be clear that, despite their claims to the contrary, Boyd, Hasker, Pinnock, and other neotheists have firmly set their view of divine omnipotence apart from and opposed to that found in TCT.  Not surprisingly, Boyd boldly calls for the immediate denunciation of “the view that God exercises total control over everything.”[22] Indeed, this clearly represents a significantly diverse presentation of the doctrine of God and not merely the fine-tuning of tangential theological truths.


     Once again, William Hasker supplies the basic working definition of divine omniscience: “To say that God is omniscient means that at any time God knows all propositions such that God’s knowing them at that time is logically possible.”[23] As noted in his definition of omnipotence, an initial glance reveals no apparent problems.  All would agree that God, as the divine Author of logic, manifests each of His eternal attributes within the sphere of His nature. However, the openness interpretation of what is “logically possible” for God to know is significantly more restrictive than that found in TCT.  While TCT readily affirms that God knows the future infallibly, including the actions of moral agents, the openness model declares that the future choices and actions of free moral agents fall outside the boundaries of what is logically knowable.  Such future events remain “open,” that is, fully unknown, undetermined, and free in the libertarian sense. Clark Pinnock further explains what is uniquely implied in the open view of the future:

It means that genuine novelty can appear in history which cannot be predicted even by God.  If the creature has been given the ability to decide how some things will turn out, then it cannot be known infallibly ahead of time how they will turn out. . . . It is plain that the biblical doctrine of creaturely freedom requires us to reconsider the conventional view of the omniscience of God [italics added].[24]

From the openness perspective on the future, there is nothing for God to know since future events have not occurred and do not exist. Neotheists, therefore, claim that while God cannot know the future with the kind of absolute certainty proposed in TCT, His general omniscience and divine wisdom remain intact, though each are definitely limited by both logic and a self-imposed epistemic constraint.[25] As in the case of divine omnipotence, then, open theism proposes a much-restricted version of this divine attribute that radically distinguishes it from that which is typically expressed in orthodox Christian theology.[26] Exactly how this understanding of divine omniscience relates to the PE will be developed below. Yet it should be obvious at this juncture that the definition of divine omniscience maintained by open theists is largely framed and governed by their determination to preserve creaturely freedom at all costs.[27] 

Neotheism and Human Autonomy

     As one comes to appreciate the openness perspective on human autonomy, major clues related to their proposed “solution” to the PE begin to surface. Open theism presupposes that human choices and actions may not be regarded as truly “free” if they are in any sense predetermined or certain.  William Hasker once again supplies a concise definition:

On the libertarian (or “incompatibilist”) understanding of free will, an agent is free with respect to a given action at a given time if at that time it is within the agent’s power to perform the action and also in the agent’s power to refrain from the action.[28]

In open theology, moral agents created in God’s image must be granted the power of contrary choice if their decisions and actions are to be considered in any sense “free.” It follows that if God infallibly knows, for example, that person ‘A’ will perform action ‘X’ next Thursday, this action will not be free according to the libertarian or contra-causal paradigm. In other words, if God’s knowledge of future human actions is infallible and certain, then notions of free will and human dignity are illusory at best. Yet, even more importantly for open theists, in such a situation God must necessarily be indicted as the author or ultimate cause of evil and suffering in the world.[29]  According to David Basinger, free will theists are, therefore, logically forced to

deny that a person can ever be said to have chosen voluntarily if God has influenced this person’s decision-making process itself in such a way that he has ensured (determined) that the choice he would have her make has in fact been made.[30]

Consequently, in the openness model of the future, all human actions are genuinely free, undetermined, and result from causes and factors within the agent himself. However, this does not imply that God is unable to exert some degree of influence or persuasion upon human choices as they occur in time and space:

While factors outside the agent are influential in every decision an agent makes, such factors are never coercive when the decision is in fact free. Thus, appealing to factors external to the agent can never exhaustively explain the free choice of the agent. In light of all influences and circumstances, agents ultimately determine themselves [italics his].[31]

     It should be quite clear that neotheism embraces and maintains a distinct notion of human autonomy that transcends the boundaries found in TCT, even those branches of TCT that have historically emphasized the freedom of the creature.  This a priori assumption that significant human freedom and exhaustive divine foreknowledge are mutually exclusive serves as one of the main components in the neotheist’s theodicy.  The legitimacy of this crucial assumption will be examined below.

Neotheism and the Problem of Evil: Difficulties Resolved?

     As we have observed, neotheists confidently maintain that the PE, whether articulated deductively (logically) or inductively (evidentially), is essentially resolved when one accepts the tenants of the openness model.  Clark Pinnock has articulated the openness solution to the PE in the following six propositions:[32]

God created [all things] for the sake of loving relationships.

This required giving real freedom to the creature [so that it would not] be a robot.

Freedom, however, entails risk in the event that love is not reciprocated.

Herein lies the possibility of moral and certain natural evils—those which appear   irredeemably malicious and demonic.

God does not abandon the world but pledges a victory over the powers of darkness. In such a theodicy, God does not will evil but wills love and, therefore, freedom that opens the door to things going right or wrong.

Though God does not protect us from ourselves, God is there redeeming every situation, though exactly how, we may not yet always know.

This bold theodical claim may be better understood by examining the fundamental building blocks supporting it.

Love, Risk, and Evil

     According to neotheists, God’s ultimate purpose for the universe is the manifestation of divine love in the atmosphere of authentic creaturely freedom.  As Pinnock and other neotheists have maintained, God’s intention in the creation event was to display the enormity of His love to moral agents whom He created and graciously endowed with the ability to receive or reject His affectionate overtures. This grand purpose, conceived in the divine mind in eternity past, functions as the framework that both governs and defines all divine activity including the exercise of God’s omnipotence and omniscience. To state the matter even more plainly, neotheism postulates that everything that God intends to do, and in fact does do, is first directed through this loving sieve.  Boyd, for example, utilizes this specific claim as the foundation for his “Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy.”[33]  In this scheme, Boyd agrees with other neotheists in postulating that love “is the reason God created the world.”[34]  Delineated more narrowly from a Christian perspective, he insists that the goal of all creation is the establishment of the church, “a bride, who would say yes to his love . . . and beautifully reflect this love back to himself.”[35] The first and foremost condition of this divine love, however, is that it “must be freely chosen. It cannot be coerced.”[36] Given these narrowly articulated parameters, Boyd concludes that

if God could have designed the world in such a way that all would say yes to him and no one would be lost, he would have done so. The fact that he did not do so suggests that he could not do so. The possibility of saying no to him must be metaphysically entailed by the possibility of saying yes to him [italics his].[37]

     As this fundamental presupposition is applied to the PE, a unique philosophical defense begins to take shape. Like Pinnock, John Sanders refers to this as the “logic-of-love defense.”[38]  This response to the PE asserts that the nature of God’s intentions in the creation of man and His desire for a special relationship of reciprocal love with His creatures necessitates the insertion of genuine risk into the cosmos. Basic misconceptions about the “type of relationship God desires” with men as well as the inherent limitations of love itself exacerbate the difficulties posed by the presence of evil in the creation.[39]  However, when evaluated from the perspective of the logic-of-love defense, one is able to understand the philosophical and moral “difficulties raised by evil and suffering within the context of personal relationships and trust rather than simply attempting to reconcile evil with the abstract concepts of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence.”[40]

     Neotheism, therefore, employs a theology of genuine risk as a kind of central and irreplaceable support structure in its attempt to provide answers to the PE.  Even more emphatically, neotheism asserts that divine love and risk are necessarily conjoined and mutually dependent.  A love without genuine risk, even the likelihood of gratuitous evil and suffering, is not the kind of authentic love worthy of the divine imprimatur. Apart from this real possibility of rejection and rebellion, and as a consequence, the possibility of evil, the creature’s love for the Creator would be robotic and essentially meaningless at best. John Sanders and other neotheists agree with Boyd’s hypothesis that in creating a world of truly free creatures who are morally responsible for their choices, God “takes the implausible risk that his creatures may reject him.”[41] In this scenario, which is confidently advanced as the logical and superior counterpart to the soft determinism offered in TCT, “God cannot prevent all the evil in the world and still maintain the conditions of fellowship intended by his overarching purpose in creation.”[42] 

God Surprised

     Perhaps one of the more startling claims of neotheism is that, given God’s limited knowledge regarding future contingencies, He is often perplexed, frustrated, appalled, and even surprised by the evil perpetrated by His creatures.[43] As Sanders explains, divine risk-taking “allows for some things occurring in the creation that God does not specifically intend to occur.  God does not want sin and suffering, for instance” [italics added].[44]  As we have demonstrated, this claim rests upon the fact that in neotheism God is uncertain regarding the future choices of free agents.[45]  When acts of evil or instances of tragedy do occur, God is left to face events He never planned for nor intended to bring about. The divine mind is, consequently, forced to react to the sinful actions and tragic choices of His finite creatures who, in a manner thoroughly contrary to His eternal wishes, have directed the course of human and cosmic history along an unforeseen pathway. Thus, as Sanders claims, there is “conditionality in God for God truly responds to what we do” [italics added].[46]

     No one has articulated this element of divine surprise more clearly than Boyd.  Having established the fact that God often changes His mind and regrets some of His decisions, and may even provide faulty counsel to His creatures at times, Boyd takes the next logical step in asserting that such chagrin over a decision may be expressed only in cases where “the decision resulted in an outcome other than what was expected or hoped for when the decision was made” [italics added].[47] For example, the rise of Adolph Hitler and the subsequent extermination of over six million Jewish people were cataclysmic events unforeseen even by God.  Hitler’s diabolical intentions were “not foreknown as a certainty at the time God created [him].”[48] Interestingly, John Sanders also appeals to Hitler and Joseph Stalin as examples of the kind of “monsters” God is powerless to prevent “from arising without abandoning the type of project he established.”[49]  These isolated microcosmic examples from history reflect a similar yet profoundly greater divine surprise on the macrocosmic level—the fall of humanity into sin as recorded in the opening chapters of Genesis.  Neotheists typically regard the words of the Lord in Genesis 6:6—“And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth and He was grieved in His heart”—as exemplary of the irrefutable evidence of divine ambivalence. God, after observing how those made in His image had disastrously abused their freedom, literally came to regret His decision to create them in the first place. That is, God actually determined that His prior decision to create humans with absolute freedom of choice was to some degree flawed.[50] Arguing that, contrary to the claims of traditional Christian theologians, these words do not represent a mere anthropomorphism but an ontological reality, neotheists lay the blame for the existence of evil squarely upon Satan, fallen angels, and mankind.  God is summarily excused from culpability precisely because He neither planned for nor was previously cognizant of such an outcome to His experiment with libertarian freedom. If such a summary of the neotheistic defense appears somewhat reductionistic, one only has to consult the words of Greg Boyd himself. He raises the following question for those pondering the implications of the admittedly difficult words of Genesis 6:

Doesn’t the fact that God regretted the way things turned out—to the point of starting over—suggest that it wasn’t a foregone conclusion at the time God created human beings that they would fall into this state of wickedness [emphasis his]?[51]

 Divine surprise, then, is an indispensable element in the openness treatment of the PE. 

Gratuitous Evil and Chance

     Given that God is often surprised by the tragic and destructive misuse of creaturely freedom, the foundation is laid for the existence of truly gratuitous evils in the universe He has created. Neotheists, therefore, are not the least hesitant to affirm that meaningless, excessive, and random acts of evil do, in fact, occur with great frequency in the world. A gratuitous evil is typically understood as one for which there is apparently no overarching purpose. There is no “greater good” served by it and, for all intents and purposes, it is thoroughly pointless.[52]  While TCT strongly denies the very possibility of authentically gratuitous evils, neotheists like John Sanders contend that

God does not specifically intend each and every action within the creation.  Thus God does not have a specific divine purpose for each and every occurrence of evil.  Some evil is simply pointless because it does not serve to achieve any greater good.  The “greater good” of establishing the conditions of fellowship between God and creatures does not mean that gratuitous evil has a point . . . . That is, God has a reason for not preventing gratuitous evil—the nature of the divine project—but there is no point for the specific occurrence of gratuitous evil.[53]

     With the admission of random and meaningless evils into the “divine project,” it becomes logically necessary to affirm that chance events also occur with regularity.  Boyd defines a chance happening as one that has “either no reason or no cause sufficient to explain it” [italics his].[54] Such occurrences are the result of a “causal chain” which has been set into motion by “two or more agents [acting] independently.”[55]  The resulting event may be properly called a “chance occurrence.”

     In arguing for the disturbing possibility of chance evils, Boyd appeals to the case of a young girl accidentally killed during a gang turf war. The events leading to her death were purely random—the tragic intersection of a number of causal chains, or, as Boyd claims, the “chance by-product of other decisions that were made.”[56]  Whatever else may be said regarding her death, it was totally devoid of any overarching divine purpose and “largely a matter of chance.”[57]  David Basinger sounds a similar note:

[Neotheists], unlike proponents of specific sovereignty, need not assume that some divine purpose exists for each evil that we encounter.  We need not, for example, assume when someone dies that God “took him home” for some reason, or that the horrors many experience in this world in some mysterious way fit into God’s perfect plan. We can justifiably assume, rather, that God is often as disappointed as we are that someone’s earthly existence has ended at an early age or that someone is experiencing severe depression or that someone is being tortured.[58]

     Neotheism employs appeals to chance and gratuitous evils as a mechanism for the defense of God against charges that He is the cause or author of evil.  By admitting that such pointless evils are present in the world, the PE, according to neotheism, is in effect solved. God did not and could not know that specific instances of gratuitous evil would happen, and could not prevent them even if He did since this would violate libertarian freedom. Thus, Sanders concludes, “Horrible events happen that God does not want specifically to occur. This was the risk God took in establishing these structures.”[59]

Neotheism’s Difficulties With the Problem of Evil:  A Critical Assessment

     In assessing the treatment of the PE by neotheists, two main areas of critical concern immediately surface. Each represents a key area where the openness model is particularly vulnerable and, in fact, proves to be fully unsatisfactory as a solution to the dilemma facing the Christian theist.  While the logical problems inherent in their view will take center stage in this evaluation, the Scriptural problem will prove to be equally troublesome.

The Scriptural Problem

     As implied above, neotheists build their case for the openness of God, and thus their philosophical defense of the PE, by appealing to a number of biblical passages that purportedly reveal that: 1) God often changes His mind and experiences regret regarding some of His decisions, 2) God does not know the future actions of free moral agents and is, therefore, surprised at the abuses of creaturely freedom, 3) and God is, to one degree or another, temporal, or bound by the constraints of time, as He interrelates with His creatures. To distill it to its essential matter, this criticism deals with those passages typically categorized as anthropomorphic. For example, consider the following selection of passages that, according to neotheists, supply the foundation for the previous claims touching the divine nature:[60]

Genesis 6:6And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.

Genesis 22:12—And he said, "Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me."

Numbers 14:11And the LORD said to Moses, "How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst?”

1 Samuel 15:35And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death; for Samuel grieved over Saul. And the LORD regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel.

1 Kings 22:20—And the LORD said, 'Who will entice Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?'

Jeremiah 3:6-7—Then the LORD said to me in the days of Josiah the king, "Have you seen what faithless Israel did? She went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and she was a harlot there. 7 "And I thought, 'After she has done all these things, she will return to Me'; but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it.”

     Neotheists resolutely deny that biblical statements such as these are in any sense anthropomorphic or metaphorical. Rather, they accurately represent the way in which the divine attributes and nature actually function in relationship to men. That is, they are biblical declarations meant to communicate the literal, and frequently fluctuating, ontological status of the divine Being. According to Boyd, when the Bible does speak anthropomorphically, as in the case of statements such as the “arm of the Lord,” it is providing true information about the divine nature. Likewise, references to God repenting and changing His mind, or being unaware of future events, should, according to Boyd, be understood as equally literal and informative:

[T]here is nothing ridiculous or poetic about the way the Bible repeatedly speaks about God changing his mind, regretting decisions, or thinking and speaking about the future in terms of possibilities. These passages usually occur within the historical narrative sections of Scripture. They only strike some as ridiculous because these readers bring to the text a preconception of what God must be like [italics his].[61]

     While a verse-by-verse examination of all the alleged “openness passages” is not possible here, several general criticisms may be briefly offered at this point. First, this approach to biblical interpretation rests upon unstable hermeneutical ground at best. It seems to ignore the fact that, in one very real sense, all of Scripture may be said to be anthropomorphic. That is, every biblical passage, especially those describing the divine nature and attributes, employs terms and phrases that are thoroughly grounded in human language and concepts. There is simply no other way to communicate any truth about God than to couch it in terms that are understandable to the finite, time-bound creatures who are the recipients of the divine revelation. As John Frame reminds us, the Bible takes “abstract attributes of God, no less than concrete images of him, from human life—words that have uses in our conversation about earthly things. This is the only kind of revelation there is.”[62] Frame’s point is well taken in that, at the least, it provides a legitimate warning regarding the propriety of building a theodicy, not to mention an entire theological system, upon such a tenuous foundation.

     Open theism, therefore, is especially susceptible to criticism with its frequent employment of such passages. For example, if the openness methodology is consistently employed in other biblical contexts, one could prove that God is not only ignorant of the future actions of free moral agents; He is also fully ignorant of the present. Genesis 3:9 serves as a classic example of such a dilemma. Here God seeks to find Adam and Eve who have taken temporary shelter among the trees in the garden of Eden following their act of disobedience (3:8).  The Lord God, “walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (3:8), calls out to the man, “Where are you?”  Notice that this question has nothing to do with the future actions of the man and his wife but, rather, their present location in time and space following their disastrous act of sin.  In Genesis 4:9, following Cain’s murder of Able, the Lord God confronts the elder brother with a similar question, “Where is Able your brother?”  Here the divine ignorance once again touches the present rather than the future—the specific whereabouts of a man and his present status as alive or dead.[63]  The follow-up question posed by the Lord in verse 10—“What have you done?”—certainly suggests divine ignorance of the past as well! 

     Another scriptural issue facing the proponents of open theism has to do with the many explicit promises made by God regarding the certainty of a future day of judgment and eschatological victory—promises that are fully embraced as literally true by neotheists.[64] For example, John Sanders fully affirms the promises contained in the book of Revelation that God will bring about the termination of moral darkness (21:25), the curse (22:3), and death itself (21:4). He argues that there is “nothing in the openness model incompatible with these claims or the assertion that God can bring these about.”[65] Likewise, Boyd confidently maintains that, while biblical eschatology is open-ended, God “predestines whatever aspects of history need to be predestined to accomplish his objectives.”[66]

     In light of these interesting theological affirmations the obvious question is, how can neotheists declare the truthfulness and certainty of such a day of divine vindication given their own philosophical, theological, and hermeneutical presuppositions?  Since, in the openness model, nothing about the future may be known with certainty even by God, there is no guarantee that humanity will not prematurely plunge the world into complete ruin and destruction (through nuclear war, bio-terrorism, or other such man-made disasters) and, thereby, render all of God’s promises regarding eschatological victory meaningless and, in fact, untrue. In addition, nature itself (instances of natural evil) could have the last word in the event of an unforeseen terrestrial or cosmic cataclysm (such as the impact of a “planet-killer” asteroid).  In neither case would God possess any advanced knowledge of such an impending termination of human life and history.[67]

     It should be apparent, therefore, that the construction of a theodicy based upon a selection of biblical passages such as these is highly suspect on hermeneutical and theological grounds and may actually prove much more than the open theist wishes.  It would seem, then, that openness theologians are guilty of ideological discrimination in the application of certain biblical passages that provide prima facie warrant for their presuppositions regarding both divine temporality and knowledge.

The Logical Problem

     The claim that open theism provides a satisfactory solution to the PE is most vulnerable to failure as its essential elements are evaluated in light of their logical consistency.  At least three primary areas of concern readily surface: 1) God as the ultimate cause of evil, 2) the absurdity of chance, risk, and divine surprise, 3) and the consequences of punctuated sovereignty.

God as the Ultimate Cause of Evil

     Open theism, as described above, attempts to absolve God of any moral responsibility for evil by demonstrating that, prior to the creation event, He possessed no epistemic certainty regarding mankind’s catastrophic fall into sin.  Thus, God cannot be responsible for the presence of evil since He did not know that Adam and Eve would violate His word. In this scenario, evil exists because the humans that God created with absolute libertarian freedom abused this liberty and rebelled against His loving intentions and clearly articulated commands. As John Sanders confirms, God simply did not know “prior to his decision to create what would happen in this world.”[68] Given this fact, Sanders concludes with other openness theologians that God cannot “be held morally culpable” for the cataclysmic aftermath of the creaturely abuse of freedom.[69] Clark Pinnock also boldly proposes that this very fact “helps us deal with the problem of evil.” He continues:

God made a world where evil was possible, but not inevitable. We can say that God did not ordain moral evil but that it arose from the misuse of freedom . . .God may be responsible for creating a world with moral agents capable of rebelling, but God is not to blame for what humans do with their freedom.[70]

     Stated simply, open theism claims that humans, not God, are directly responsible for the existence of evil. The PE exists because of the misuse of divinely granted freedom and moral responsibility—a misuse thoroughly unforeseen by God. [71] In essence, the PE is created by men and has little, if anything, to do with God. Open theists, therefore, have effectively shifted the moral responsibility for the PE to free moral agents.

     In defending this assertion Bruce Reichenbach implies that God is not morally responsible for evil since He does not exercise His sovereignty as would a novelist, but incorporates the unforeseen decisions and actions of men into His general plan for the universe. This means, therefore, “that at times his plans and purposes are thwarted.”[72] As demonstrated above, open theism not only presupposes that divine love positively necessitates libertarian freedom, but also strongly asserts the logical impossibility of knowing any future event with absolute certainty. It is precisely these two components that together serve as the foundation for the claim that the PE has been sufficiently deciphered.

     Upon closer examination of this proposed answer to the PE it becomes clear that this maneuver only removes the difficulty by one step. The logical question becomes, how could God have created such a universe knowing that, at the very least, the possibility of evil and subsequent suffering existed? That is, what kind of God creates the world while fully aware that there exists the very real possibility, if not the probability, that His creatures would rebel against Him and thereby plunge the cosmos into ruin and destruction?  How can one legitimately absolve God of the moral responsibility for evil when, as Bruce Ware suggests, he “could have prevented all of this by not creating at all, or by creating a different kind of world”?[73] This potent objection has been forcefully articulated by R. K. McGregor Wright:

When God decided to give us free will, he must have known that at least statistically some humans and angels would eventually decide to disobey him, even if Adam and Eve remained sinless. In fact, if he had even the foreknowledge implied in the ability to make a lucky guess, he must have known that sin and its attendant evils were inevitable, once autonomous wills were allowed. But this means he was indeed “responsible” for evil in the sense that it happened because he did not do what was necessary to stop it.[74]

Even if one claims, as some open theists do, that God decided to limit His sovereign involvement in the affairs of men, allowing their own free decisions to play out on the stage of human history, God is not absolved from moral responsibility in the least. The fact remains that to decide to abstain from action or direct intervention is in itself a profound decision, often engaged in with equally profound consequences. It would seem, therefore, that the neotheist’s position is no further down the road in solving the PE than the orthodox theology that it so vigorously opposes.

The Absurdity of Chance, Risk, and Divine Surprise

     As evidenced above, the theological superstructure of open theism rests upon the possibility of chance events occurring with regularity in the created order. Thus, while the fall of mankind into sin was clearly a violation of God’s will, its occurrence provides the proof that “God does not exercise total control over all events in the world. Evils happen that are not supposed to happen, that grieve and anger God.”[75] Therefore, it is no unfair characterization to conclude that, according to open theism, God literally rolled the cosmic dice when He determined to create this universe. As even Boyd freely admits, this world as we have come to experience it, where love and libertarian freedom are realities, could not have been possible without “risking war.”[76] Frankly, openness theologians assert, God was surprised at the events in the garden and, furthermore, “sometimes regrets how things turn out, even prior decisions that he himself made” [italics his].[77]The theology of risk, then, is at the heart of the open theist’s response to the PE. 

     Before declaring that the PE has been solved, however, one must seriously consider the rationality of such a risk-laden theology. In the first place, how do appeals to risk and chance events in the cosmos comport with the declarations of Scripture regarding God’s sovereign governance of the universe?[78] Secondly, does the appeal to chance provide any level of comfort and assurance to those who are suffering the effects of evil? To claim that children are sometimes murdered by pedophiles or beset with leukemia due to bad luck does little to address the massive theological and practical concerns raised by such a dilemma. Additionally, such a seemingly trite response to the presence of evil—that it is due, not to God’s decree, but to chance or random occurrences—raises the disturbing possibility that the course of human history is largely out of God’s control, or is perhaps being directed by impersonal forces or laws.  That is, to declare that God has determined to permit evil by taking the risk of creation may imply a belief, whether stated or implied, in the existence of a competing “ontological or even quasi-ontological reality” which both exists and acts “independently of God.”[79]  The neotheist, therefore, must seriously consider whether or not the introduction of chance into the universe really makes logical sense. At this point, the foundational question becomes, what happens when even one purely random event is allowed entry into the cosmos?  Would this not set in motion a chain of unanticipated and uncontrolled events that the God of open theism would be powerless to stop without violating the libertarian freedom of His creatures?  For example, as witnessed above, neo-theologians such as Boyd argue that the rise of Adolph Hitler was a totally unforeseen and unplanned event that literally surprised and horrified God Himself.  It occurred by chance, the horrific intersection of innumerable causal chains ultimately consisting of the totally random movement of sub-atomic particles for which God is in no way responsible.[80] Yet, such an accidental event certainly produced an even greater number of random events that each yielded yet other events ad infinitum. This seems to suggest that, in such a case, the universe would be literally filled with totally random and, therefore, meaningless occurrences, each existing outside the purview of divine knowledge and causality. In this scenario, the logical result of neotheism’s brash claims, God is reduced to the disconnected Spectator one might find in classical deism. The Almighty, as it were, sits close by, lovingly holding humanity’s collective hand as the cosmos spins wildly out of His control.

     As neotheism fails in the arena of logic, the critical assumptions and presuppositions of the openness paradigm also betray any semblance of conformity to biblical theology while positioning its proponents in a camp alarmingly similar to philosophical dualism, process theism, or deism.[81] A God who takes chances, or, as it were, submits His plans to a “wheel-of-fortune” kind of cosmic indeterminism, can offer no guarantees that His program of justice, judgment, and the final righting of all wrongs can be ultimately carried out.  As will be addressed in more detail below, this scenario renders Scripture’s many promises of Christ’s final and complete victory over evil meaningless and strikes a deathblow to the doctrines of the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture—doctrines that are, ironically, embraced by some in the openness movement. Biblical passages that lie or mislead, however, are not worthy of belief or obedience and do nothing to provide comfort or assurance to those who are suffering.

The Consequences of Punctuated Sovereignty

     Arguably the most philosophically bizarre claim made by open theists in regard to the PE is that, though God does not and cannot know the future with certainty and has limited His direct involvement in the affairs of men, He does exercise raw sovereign power at times in order to steer human history toward His desired ends. Thus, some events that happen in the world are, in fact, predetermined, and, therefore, will occur. This strange claim is unabashedly set forth by Gregory Boyd who declares that, “God can and does predetermine and foreknow whatever he wants to about the future” [italics his].[82]  David Basinger agrees:

Freewill theists believe that God does unilaterally control some things.  Many believe, for instance, that God unilaterally created this type of world, that he may at times unilaterally intervene to “keep things on track,” and that he may occasionally unilaterally intervene in our personal lives (or at least in the lives of some) [italics added].[83]

     The necessity of such a claim becomes apparent in light of the fact that neotheists fully affirm the final and ultimate victory of Christ. That is, they hold, in agreement with TCT, that the consummation of the divine purposes will be realized in and through the person of Jesus Christ and His eschatological victory on the last day. For this day to occur, however, it is necessary that God steer history, by means of His personal, sovereign intervention in the affairs of humanity, in a direction where the realization of this purpose may be ensured. At this point one should ask the neotheist how such direct, though punctuated, sovereign intervention in human history is possible given their presuppositions regarding libertarian freedom and the logical impossibility of knowing future contingencies. For example, as argued above, it is logically impossible for God to know with certainty any future event, including His own future actions since these are intrinsically linked to the undetermined and unknown future actions of free agents. Thus, given that God lacks epistemic certainty regarding His actions in the future, how is it possible for God to plan, foresee, or anticipate the appropriate times for His direct intervention in cosmic history?  Even Gregory Boyd betrays the inherent uncertainty of this system in his admission that “an element of spontaneity permeates things and, more importantly, free agents have a significant say in what transpires.”[84] To state the matter simply, if God cannot know what men will do in the future, how can He know what His reaction will be?

     At this juncture, the neotheist may claim that God, as Creator and Sustainer of the cosmos, has infinite wisdom and knows human nature perfectly. Therefore, He is able to anticipate human decisions with a high degree of accuracy. Yet, even this maneuver leaves open the distinct possibility, if not the probability, that God might misjudge human nature and fail to intervene in a timely manner when the advancement and realization of His plans is possible.[85]  In other words, God might miss a strategic and irreplaceable moment in the flow of human history in which the final conquest of the Son and the realization of His redemptive purposes could take place.

     Additionally, open theists have failed to anticipate that the insertion of even one sovereign or divinely unilateral act into the flow of human history by God will necessarily generate countless other actions and events to which He must respond. Thus, in order to achieve His predetermined ends, God must continually introduce innumerable independent events into time and space as He observes the choices and actions of men and the linear movement of cosmic history.[86]  Yet, this seems to be the exact scenario that is most repulsive to openness theologians—God’s comprehensive providential involvement in the affairs of free moral agents.  Therefore, once again, it seems apparent that, despite its bold claims to the contrary, neotheism fails to provide a logically coherent foundation for its core affirmations and its audacious claim to have resolved the PE.


     Though the purpose of this paper has been simply to provide a brief critique of neotheism and its proposed solution to the PE, it must be acknowledged that the passionate quest for a better option for thoughtful Christians must continue. Those believers who affirm the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of the Bible must search for, develop, and clearly articulate a theodicy that does not deconstruct the classical view of God, nor devolve into logical absurdity, thus abandoning suffering people on the shores of hopelessness and despair. Such a view must tenaciously preserve the integrity of Scripture’s claims regarding God’s nature and attributes. It must affirm the presence of mystery amidst theological truths that defy finite human logic. It must also do justice to the Scripture’s teaching regarding God’s all-encompassing sovereignty and the reality of human freedom and responsibility, while refusing to deny the presence of pervasive evil in this world. In short, any truly Christian theodicy must not sacrifice those non-negotiable elements that define and delineate a “Christian” perspective for the sake of providing a convenient answer to life’s most vexing and perplexing problem, the problem of evil.


[1] Michael Peterson, Evil and the Christian God (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1982), observes that the problem of evil is “most acute for orthodox Christian theology because two of its important beliefs seem to be incompatible. On the one hand, Christian theology affirms the unrivaled power, unlimited knowledge, and unrelenting love of God. On the other hand, Christian theology recognizes the obvious fact that horrendous evils occur in God’s created order” (p.16).  Peterson’s point is well taken. The problem of evil is most troublesome for those who maintain belief in God’s exhaustive foreknowledge of future events. It is precisely at this point where neotheism has supplied its alleged “answer” to the challenge. The balance of this paper will attempt to explore and respond to this bold assertion.

[2] John Hick, Evil and the God of Love (London: Macmillan, 1966), 4. Hick’s simple formulation of the problem of evil is as good as any: “Can the presence of evil in the world be reconciled with the existence of a God who is unlimited in both goodness and power?” (Ibid., 3). G C. Berkouwer, The Providence of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952), asks how it is “possible to rhyme the frightening realities of life with the omnipotence of God over this world? Is there a demonstrable relation between God’s omnipotence and His goodness?” (p. 251). 

[3] Ronald H. Nash, Faith and Reason: Searching for a Rational Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 178. For an atheistic presentation of the problem of evil, see William L. Rowe, “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism,” American Philosophical Quarterly 16 (1979): 335-341.  Michael Martin, Atheism: A Philosophical Justification (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990), sets forth what he terms an “Indirect Inductive Argument from Evil.” He asserts that since “no known theodicy is successful, probably no theodicy will be successful. And since probably no theodicy will be successful, there is probably no explanation for evil. However, there must be such an explanation if God exists. So it is likely that he does not exist.” (p. 341).

[4] Alvin C. Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974; reprint ed., 1989).  Plantinga defines the core of the Free Will Defense as the claim that “it is possible that God could not have created a universe containing moral good (or as much moral good as this world contains) without creating one that also contains moral evil” (p. 31). In “God, Evil, and the Metaphysics of Freedom,” in The Problem of Evil, eds. Marilyn McCord Adams and Robert Merrihew Adams (New York: Oxford Press, 1990), Plantinga concludes that a world “containing creatures who are sometimes significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all . . . . To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, he must create creatures capable of moral evil; and he cannot leave these creatures free to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so” [italics his]. (p. 85).

[5] Ibid., 30.

[6] D.  A. Carson, How Long O Lord?  Reflections on Suffering and Evil (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990), 201.

[7] This fact is exemplified by the differences between classical Arminian theology and historic Calvinism. Though representing divergent affirmations regarding the nature of God’s sovereignty, both readily postulate the comprehensive nature of God’s foreknowledge of future events. Note, for example, that Article I of The Five Arminian Articles (1610) fully affirms God’s “eternal, unchangeable purpose in Jesus Christ his Son” which was inaugurated in the divine mind “before the foundation of the world.”  Additionally, the Confession of the Free-Will Baptists (1834, 1868) acknowledges, “All events are present with God from everlasting to everlasting.” Only in more recent years have Arminian theologians moved in the direction of a limited view of divine foreknowledge, rejecting such eternal, unchangeable purposes.  See, for instance, Clark Pinnock, “God Limits His Knowledge” in Predestination and Free Will: Four Views on Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom, eds. David Basinger and Randall Basinger (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986). 

[8] Neotheism is also known in the ever-growing literature as “free-will theism,” “libertarianism,” and “open theism.”  In this paper these terms will be used interchangeably. 

[9] William Hasker, “A Philosophical Perspective,” in The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God, eds. Clark Pinnock and others (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1994), 152.

[10] Ibid. Not surprisingly, Hasker finds encouragement for his views within the boundaries of process theology that has historically advanced a similar form of finite godism.  He approvingly notes that process theology “finds itself in a rather strong position in dealing with the problem of evil. . . . The process answer, simply put, is that God does not permit the evil, because God could not prevent the evils from occurring. All God can do, and what he does do, is attempt to persuade worldly beings to act in accord with his plan; if they act differently, and evil and suffering are the result, then God suffers along with us. So the problem of evil, as an objection to belief in the existence of God virtually disappears” [italics his]. (Ibid., 139).

[11] The prima facie attractiveness of neotheism is affirmed by some of its most articulate critics. John M. Frame, No other God: A Response to Open Theism (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2001) admits that the “most persuasive argument for libertarianism is [the claim] that it provides a solution to the problem of evil.” (p. 135).

[12] Gregory Boyd, God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2000), 99.

[13] For example, Gregory Boyd, “The Open Theism View,” in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, eds. James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy  (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001), makes the following claim: “The debate over the nature of God’s foreknowledge is not primarily a debate about the scope or perfection of God’s knowledge. All Christians agree that God is omniscient and therefore knows all of reality perfectly. The debate over God’s foreknowledge is rather a debate over the content of reality that God perfectly knows. It has more to do with the doctrine of creation than it does with the doctrine of God” [italics his]. (p. 13). However, as will be demonstrated in this paper, neotheism advances a significantly heterodox view of omniscience that is closely akin to that found in process theism.

[14] William Hasker, “A Philosophical Perspective,” in The Openness of God, 135.

[15] Jack W. Cottrell, “The Nature of the Divine Sovereignty,” in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark Pinnock (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1989), 110.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Clark Pinnock, “God’s Sovereignty in Today’s World,” Theology Today. 53  #1  (April 1996).  Available online at Accessed 19 July, 2002. Elsewhere, “Systematic Theology,” in The Openness of God, Pinnock reaffirms his stance on divine omnipotence: “Yet, this [limited omnipotence/sovereignty] does not make God ‘weak,’ for it requires more power to rule over an undetermined world that it would over a determined one. Creating free creatures and working with them does not contradict God’s omnipotence but requires it. . . . God sets goals for creation and redemption and realized them ad hoc in history. If plan A fails, God is ready with plan B.” (p. 113).

[18] Gregory Boyd, Letters From a Skeptic (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1994), 45.

[19] Ibid., 46.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Boyd, “The Open-Theism View,” in Divine Foreknowledge, 44.

[22] Ibid., 45

[23] Hasker, “A Philosophical Perspective,” in The Openness of God, 135.

[24] Pinnock, “God Limits His Knowledge,” in Predestination and Free Will, 150.  John Sanders, “ Why Simple Foreknowledge Offers No More Providential Control Than The Openness of God,” Faith and Philosophy 14  #1 (January 1997), agrees with Pinnock and states the openness position quite plainly: “For the openness of God model, God only has present knowledge of what free creatures do and possesses ‘foreknowledge’ of all the specific actions he determines to do in the future. God knows all that has happened and all that is happening—right down to the movement of quarks—and may infer or believe that certain things will occur in the future. But God does not know the future actions of free creatures” [italics added]. (pp. 26-27).

[25] Later in this paper I will argue that when neotheist’s declare that the future is by definition unknowable while simultaneously asserting, with the same degree of confidence, that God predestines some future events they have committed a serious philosophical blunder.

[26] Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith  (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), offers this comprehensive expression of the orthodox definition of omniscience: “. . . the all-wise God is at every moment cognizant of everything that ever was, now is, or ever shall be. And it has never been otherwise. He necessarily knows himself exhaustively, and he necessarily knows his creation exhaustively—and both instantaneously, simultaneously, and everlastingly. His knowledge of himself and of all other things is absolutely comprehensive and eternally ‘intuited,’ that is, he has never learned anything because he has always known everything.” (p. 185).

[27] This point will be treated below in more detail.  It should be noted that neotheists like Boyd also appeal to Scripture in order to justify this distinctive understanding of omniscience.

[28] Hasker, “A Philosophical Perspective,” 137-37.

[29] Boyd, God of the Possible, tenaciously maintains that if “all future events are determined by God, then he must ultimately be responsible for everything, including evil” [italics his]. (p. 23). Pinnock, “God’s Sovereignty in Today’s World,” in Theology Today makes the same explicit claim: “A sovereignty of control seems to deny that human beings possess the kind of (libertarian) freedom with which they are able to either obey God’s will or to move against God’s purposes. It certainly aggravates the problem of evil in requiring God to bear sole responsibility for evil. It would seem that we need a better model of divine sovereignty than that of total control” [italics added].  It is clear enough that both Boyd and Pinnock presuppose that the TCT view of God’s sovereignty and foreknowledge automatically proves problematic, if not fatally flawed, in dealing with the PE. Yet, is such a presupposition justified? Later I will endeavor to demonstrate that this a priori commitment to libertarian freedom falls short of adequately dealing with the Biblical data, and fails to provide a satisfactory solution to the PE.

[30] David Basinger, The Case for Free Will Theism (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1996), 32.

[31]Gregory A. Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2001), 56.

[32] Clark Pinnock, Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 132-132. Pinnock refers to this position as the “logic of love” theodicy. Pinnock’s enthusiasm for this theodicy is fueled by his belief that the PE is thoroughly insoluble if one assumes the theological presuppositions of TCT. What he calls the “blueprint model of divine providence” contributes to confusion and frustration—“Belief in a God who ordains and/or allows every evil to exist (including the burning of children) cannot be sustained.” (p.133).

[33] Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil, 56.

[34] Ibid., 50.

[35] Ibid., 51.

[36] Ibid., 52. For Boyd, the real likelihood of evil is “not a second decision God makes; it is implied in the single decision to have a world in which love is possible.” Ibid., 55.

[37] Ibid., 53.

[38] John Sanders, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 258.

[39] Ibid., 257. Sanders believes that this defense “provides a way of understanding the structures in which suffering and evil could come about in God’s creational project even though he never intended them.” Ibid., 267.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid., 258.

[42] Ibid,, 259.

[43] It is precisely this claim that fully separates the neotheistic treatment of the PE from the “free will” and “greater good” defenses. 

[44] Ibid., 171.

[45] Boyd, God of the Possible, admits that an open view of the future necessarily entails the belief that “in creating the world God faced the possibility, but not the certainty, that free creatures would choose to oppose him to the extent that they have.” (p. 91). 

[46] John Sanders, “The Openness of God and the Assurance of Things to Come,” in Looking Into the Future: Evangelical Studies in Eschatology, ed.  David W. Baker (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 282.

[47] Boyd, God of the Possible, 56.

[48] Ibid., 98.

[49] Sanders, The God Who Risks, 260. Boyd and Sanders firmly believe that if God knew for certain that such evil would arise in history He would be morally responsible for their actions: “If I unleash a mad dog I am certain will bite you, am I not responsible for my dog’s behavior? If so, how is God not responsible for the behavior of evil people he ‘unleashes’ on the world—if, in fact, he is absolutely certain of what they will do once ‘unleashed.’” Boyd, God of the Possible, 10. Yet, should not this same argument apply if God creates the world knowing that there exists the possibility of evil?

[50] Commenting on Genesis 6:6 Boyd, God of the Possible, boldly claims that “God sometimes regrets how things turn out, even prior decisions that he himself made” [italics added].  (p. 55).

[51] Boyd, God of the Possible, 55.

[52] Purdue University philosopher and atheist William L. Rowe supplies a classic illustration of a gratuitous evil. In an essay entitled “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism,” in The Problem of Evil, eds.  Marilyn M. Adams and Robert M. Adams (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), Rowe describes a fawn trapped and horribly burned in a forest fire. The animal, mortally injured, lives for several days in agonizing pain before finally succumbing to its burns. Rowe argues that the fawn’s intense suffering serves no greater purpose and is, therefore, apparently gratuitous.

[53] Sanders, The God Who Risks, 262. This same point is defended, albeit less strenuously, by David Basinger, The Case for Freewill Theism, who admits, “this world may well contain unavoidable, as well as necessary evil.” (p. 87). Boyd, however, is more direct: “To some of us, the suggestion that God has a ‘higher reason’ for allowing children to suffocate in mud or be kidnapped is insulting to those who experience the horror as well as to the character of God.” Satan and the Problem of Evil, 14.

[54] Satan and the Problem of Evil, 387.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Ibid., 389.

[57] Ibid.  Boyd concludes that in this case the young girl’s death “was, in the end, simply bad luck” [italics added].  Ibid. Frankly, it is both surprising and disturbing that a Christian theologian could make such a statement.  This will be critically evaluated below.

[58] Basinger, “Practical Implications,” 170. With commendable honesty, Basinger admits that this position is in fundamental agreement with the tenets of process theism: “Thus we, like process theists, believe that much of the pain and suffering we encounter may well be gratuitous—may well not lead to a greater good.” Ibid.

[59] Sanders, The God Who Risks, 268.

[60] For a more complete list of such passages see Boyd, God of the Possible, 157-169.

[61] Boyd, God of the Possible, 118.

[62] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God: A Theology of Lordship (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2002), 367.

[63] Similar questions are raised about the present activities of Satan as well. In Job 1:7 and 2:2 the Lord asks, “From where do you come?” Frame, ibid., 498, argues that all biblical anthropomorphisms are thoroughly “grounded in the nature of God’s involvement in the temporal sequence.” That is, while God is timeless and eternal, He does interact with His time-bound creatures temporally as the sovereign Lord of time and space. See his discussion of this topic in The Doctrine of God, 543-599.

[64] Among the many passages that could be cited here none is more explicit and direct than the words of the apostle Paul: “He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed . . . .” (Acts 17:31).

[65] John Sanders, “The Openness of God and the Assurance of Things to Come,” in Looking Into the Future: Evangelical Studies in Eschatology, 284.

[66] Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil, 115.

[67] Here one must recall that many neotheists assert that future contingencies are logically unknowable, even to God.

[68] Sanders, The God Who Risks, 260.

[69] Ibid., 260.

[70] Pinnock, “God’s Sovereignty in Today’s World.”

[71] Note that Alvin Plantinga takes a somewhat similar tact when he argues that the real possibility exists that even an omnipotent God could not have created a universe containing moral good, without creating one that also contained moral evil. See God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974; reprint ed, 1989), 31-33.

[72] Bruce Reichenbach, “God Limits His Power,” 117. Interestingly, John Frame, The Doctrine of God, convincingly employs this very analogy of the novelist, or author and characters, in his defense of theological compatibilism (156-159).

[73] Ware, God’s Lesser Glory, 209.

[74] R. K. McGregor Wright, No Place for Sovereignty: What’s Wrong With Freewill Theism (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1996), 192.

[75] Pinnock, The Openness of God, 115.

[76] Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil, 86.

[77] Boyd, God of the Possible, 55.

[78] The following passages are simply a few among the many that should be considered: 1 Ki. 17:2-4; Ps. 103:19, 135:6, 147:15-18; Prov. 16:4, 21:1; Is. 14:27; Acts 17:28; Phil. 2:13.

[79] Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, vol. VI: God Who Stands and Stays (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1999), 295.

[80] To establish the theoretical basis for his claim that chance events do occur in the universe, Boyd appeals to quantum mechanics (Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy, 136-139) and, more specifically, the Heisenberg Indeterminacy Principle which, simply stated, postulates that the exact location and trajectory of quantum particles cannot be known with absolute certainty.  Yet, this strategy has been convincingly answered by John C. Beckman, “Quantum Mechanics, Chaos Physics and the Open View of God,” Philosophia Christi 4 #1: 2002, 203-213. Beckman concludes that chaos physics does not necessarily imply indeterminacy or open theism: “Chaotic systems are physically deterministic. They are unpredictable to finite creatures, but God can exhaustively calculate their definite future behavior if He has exhaustive, definite knowledge of the inputs and infinite calculating precision “ (p. 208). Later he argues that the “unpredictability of chaotic systems does not imply an open future. The unpredictability due to chaos is epistemological rather than ontological. It is due to creaturely limitations and does not apply to God” (p. 210).  With these criticisms in view, it seems that Boyd’s rather passionate appeal to chaos theory as a justification for an open future simply begs the question. If God possesses exhaustive foreknowledge of all future events the positions of subatomic particles are certain and eternally fixed in the divine decree.

[81] I have essentially paraphrased Carl F. H. Henry’s claim, God Who Stands and Stays, that the theology of risk, or divine permissiveness, “reflects a kind of incipient dualism rather than the metaphysical monism of Scripture.” (p. 295).

[82] Boyd, God of the Possible, 31.

[83] Basinger, The Case for Freewill Theism, 34.

[84] Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil, 392.

[85] In God of the Possible Boyd presents a case study in which he ultimately concludes that God provided bad advice to a young woman named ‘Suzanne” who was seeking His will regarding marriage and other future decisions. “I suggested to her that God felt as much regret over the confirmation he had given Suzanne as he did about his decision to make Saul king of Israel.” It seems, then, that Boyd has left open the distinct possibility of divine failure and fallibility.

[86] Consider, as merely one example, how many sovereign movements would be required to bring about the birth of Jesus to the virgin Mary in the city of Bethlehem. God would violate the “freedom” of literally hundreds of persons in order to ensure that this birth would occur at the specified time and place.  Yet, this is precisely the kind of situation that open theism vigorously denies.


Basinger, David and Basinger, Randall. Predestination and Free Will: Four Views on Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986.

Basinger, David. The Case for Freewill Theism: A Philosophical Assessment. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Beckman, John C. “Quantum Mechanics, Chaos Physics, and the Open View of God.” Philosophia Christi 4 #1 (2002).

Beilby, James K. and Eddy, Paul R., eds. Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views.  Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001.

Berkower, G. C.  The Providence of God. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952.  

Boyd, Gregory. God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2000.

_______.  Letters From a Skeptic. Wheaton: Victor Books, 1994.

_______.  Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001.

 _______. “The Open Theism View.” In Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, pp. 13-47. Edited by James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001.

Carson, D. A. How Long O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990

Davis, Stephen.  “The Problem of Evil in Recent Philosophy.” Review and Expositor  82 (1985).

Michael P. Calvert is a Ph.D. student at Trinity College and Theological Seminary, Newburgh, IN.