Open Theism: An Interview with Dr. Ronald Nash
Michael Collender: Now stepping from philosophy to the
way that we handle Scripture, open theists claim their God is
very much the God of the Bible and they sight passages from
Scripture that teach that God can change His mind.
Passages like 1 Samuel 15:35, "And the LORD regretted
(literally repented) that He had made Saul king over Israel".
It seems this passage and others, like Genesis 5 and 6 teach that
God can make choices that He regrets; that He can be surprised.
Now, how can historic Christian orthodoxy deal with passages like
Ron Nash: There's no need for a new answer. The church, ever
since the Reformation and probably some of the predecessors of
the Reformation, clearly recognized that when human beings use
language about God there will be times when they cannot
use language in a literal way.
For example, when Jesus said "This is My body", He did not
mean that text to be interpreted in a straightforward or literal
way. Likewise when He said "This is My blood" or "I am the door".
What we call non-literal or anthropomorphic (human-like) language
attributed to God appears throughout the Bible. And it creates far
fewer problems with respect to passages like those you sighted when
we recognized that they are not to be taken in a straightforward way.
In fact, what's interesting is that many of the passages cited by open
theists as support for their position turn out to be passages where the straightforward interpretation of the passage leads to a disaster.
Let me give you a couple of examples, and these examples appear
in their [open theists] writings.
In Genesis 22:12, as we know, God told Abraham to
take his son Isaac up to the top of the mount and there offer him
as a sacrifice. And God says "Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not
do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, since you
have not withheld from me your son, your only. . ."
Surprise! Here is a classic case where open theists say "God learned
something new. God is surprised." But notice the implications here.
This is what open theists can't trace out. Remember, open theists
say God can't know the future, but they insist, as they had better,
that God can know both the past and the present. But the open
theists' straightforward reading of Genesis 22:12 actually implies
that poor God couldn't know the present. He did not know at that
moment that Abraham really trusted Him. God's knowledge was
lacking not only with respect to the future, it was lacking with
respect to the present. And moreover, it was also lacking with
respect to the past.
Now clearly, when our God can't know the past and the present,
He really is a finite deity, and that is an implication of their position.
Let me give you one more text here.
Consider Genesis 3:9 where God is seeking Adam in the garden and
the verse reads "Then the LORD called to the man and said to him,
'Where art thou?'." Now, even when I was a 12 year old kid in Sunday
school, I knew that was not literal language. But open theists have to
interpret that as literal language because they want to attack the full
compliment of God's knowledge.
But the problem again here is that if you take that passage literally,
God didn't know where Adam was at that particular moment in God's
present. In fact, God didn't even know His geography, where Adam
was in the garden. So these people are really playing games, I suggest.
They condemn us for not interpreting passages straightforwardly,
when they themselves can't do the same thing.
Now listen; it is wrong to interpret any of these anthropomorphic
texts to say that God learns something new from changed situations.
It is wrong to interpret them to say that God changed His mind.
Instead of understanding them in that way, we should recognize
that what may seem to be changes of mind may actually be just new
stages in the working out of God's plan.
An example of this would be the offering of salvation to the Gentiles.
Well, as part of God's original plan it represented a rather sharp break
with what had preceded. Some other apparent changes of mind in the
Bible are changes of orientation resulting from man's move into a
different relationship with God.
God didn't change when Adam sinned. Rather, man had moved into
God's disfavor. This works the other way as well.
Take the case of Ninevah. God said "Forty days and Ninevah will be
destroyed unless they repent". Okay, Ninevah repented and it was
spared. But it was man that had changed and not God that had
Now philosophers have a technical term for this; they call it a
"Cambridge change." That is, it's a situation where we use the
language of change but no real serious or essential change has
Now, if I have the time, let me address the passage in 1 Samuel.
Actually, let me address two passage because they're both relevant
to this. And if your people hear nothing else from me today other
than the books they ought to read they ought to pay attention to the
next three or four minutes.
Let me quote Numbers 23:19; "God is not a man, that He
should lie, nor a son of man that He should change His mind.
Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill?"
Now this is what people should notice; two serious errors are
combined in that verse - changing one's mind, and lying. And here
is the implication. If God can change His mind, then He should also
be able lie. You can't separate those.
Jump from Numbers 23:19 to 1 Samuel 15:29. It's the same kind
of parallel that's set up, "He who is the glory if Israel does not
lie or change His mind. For He is not a man that He should change
His mind". What's interesting is that's the same text from which the
earlier passage you quoted comes from.
Now here is the interpretive principle that needs to be
applied here. If God can really change, then God can also lie.
You can't separate those. But if there is a literal, straightforward
text in Scripture that tells us that God can't do one of those things,
then it follows that He cannot do the other thing either. And
Hebrews 6 makes it very clear in straightforward, literal,
non-anthropomorphic language that God cannot lie.
So if it is impossible for God to lie, as Scripture tell us it is, then
it must also be impossible for God to change His mind. And therefore,
these texts that appear to tell us that God can change His mind, are anthropomorphic texts which should not be taken in a straightforward