Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity

Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity


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Twelve pastors and teachers explain why the God of open theism is not the God of biblical Christianity. Provides readers with a thorough understanding of what is at stake when exhaustive divine foreknowledge is denied.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781581344622
Publisher: Crossway
Publication date: 02/02/2003
Pages: 416
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.06(d)

About the Author

John Piper (DTheol, University of Munich) is the founder and teacher of desiringGod.organd the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He served for thirty-three years as the senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is the author of more than fifty books, including Desiring God;Don’t Waste Your Life;This Momentary Marriage;A Peculiar Glory;andReading the Bible Supernaturally.

Justin Taylor (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher at Crossway. He has edited and contributed to several books, including A God-Entranced Vision of All Things and Reclaiming the Center, and he blogs at Between Two Worlds—hosted by the Gospel Coalition.

Paul Kjoss Helseth (PhD, Marquette University) is professor of Christian thought at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the author of numerous scholarly articles.

Wayne Grudem(PhD, University of Cambridge; DD, Westminster Theological Seminary) is Distinguished Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary, having previously taught fortwenty years at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is aformer president of the Evangelical Theological Society, a member of the Translation Oversight Committee for the English Standard Version of the Bible, the general editor of theESV Study Bible, and has published overtwenty books.

Mark Talbot(PhD, University of Pennsylvania) is associate professor of philosophy at Wheaton College. He specializes in philosophical psychology and philosophical theology and has written numerous articles and reviews.

Bruce A. Ware (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is professor of Christian theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has written numerous journal articles, book chapters, book reviews, and has authored God's Lesser Glory, God's Greater Glory, and Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Michael Horton (PhD, University of Coventry and Wycliffe Hall, Oxford) is the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary in California. In addition to being the author of many popular and academic books, he is also the editor in chief of Modern Reformation magazine, a host of the White Horse Inn radio broadcast, and a minister in the United Reformed Churches.

Stephen J. Wellum (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is professor of Christian theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and editor of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. Stephen lives in Louisville, Kentucky, with his wife, Karen, and their five children.

Read an Excerpt


The Rabbis and the Claims of Openness Advocates

Russell Fuller


The Old Testament is the battleground in the theological struggle between the advocates of the openness view of God and the advocates of the traditional view of God. The openness view, a recent and rare position, challenges important, vital, and cherished teachings about the character and nature of God. It represents a seismic shift not only in theology but also in history and in exegesis. Because its teachings and implications are so thoroughgoing and so farreaching, Christians must weigh its claims carefully and test its doctrines meticulously. Both sides of the dispute, to be sure, lay claim to the Bible — especially the Old Testament — to substantiate their position. To validate the claims of the openness view, then, one may appeal to a disinterested third party, like a referee, an umpire, or a judge to evaluate impartially the evidence. Because the Old Testament is the common possession of Christians and Jews, and because the Old Testament is in the front lines of this conflict, the early Rabbis of the Talmud and the Midrash, like a referee or a judge, can test the historical, exegetical, and theological claims and teachings of the openness view. Under Rabbinic scrutiny and examination, however, the openness view fails, its lethal errors exposed, its inaccurate claims concerning history, theology, and exegesis repudiated.


Advocates of the openness view, of course, will immediately object, challenging the impartiality of the Rabbis. Indeed, John Sanders, an advocate for the openness view, claims that Greek philosophy influenced both Christian and Jewish thinking about God. Sanders, who insists that "Hellenistic rational theology ... had a profound impact on Jewish and Christian thinking about the divine nature," writes:

Where does this "theologically correct" view of God come from? The answer, in part, is found in the way Christian thinkers have used certain Greek philosophical ideas. Greek thought has played an extensive role in the development of the traditional doctrine of God. But the classical view of God worked out in the Western tradition is at odds at several key points with a reading of the biblical text. ...

Furthermore, Sanders claims that Philo, the first-century Jewish Hellenist, bridged the gap between Greek philosophy and the Old Testament, profoundly affecting Jewish and Christian theology. "Philo of Alexandria," says Sanders, "was a Jewish thinker who sought to reconcile biblical teaching with Greek philosophy. To him goes the distinction of being the leading figure in forging the biblical-classical synthesis. Both the method and the content of this synthesis were closely followed by later Jewish, Christian and Muslim thinkers." Hence, Sanders's historical claims — of Greek philosophical influence and of Philo's role in transmitting Greek thought to Judaism — allegedly disqualify the Rabbis as impartial judges.

Modern Rabbinic authorities, however, deny that Greek philosophy influenced the Rabbis. They were not philosophers, nor students of phi losophy, having only limited or casual interest in the subject, as the Reformed (liberal) C. G. Montefiore asserts:

Another point to remember in regard to Rabbinic literature is that it comes from men whose outlook was extraordinarily limited. They had no interests outside Religion and the Law. They had lost all historic sense. They had no interest in art, in drama, in belles lettres, in poetry, or in science (except, perhaps, in medicine). They had no training in philosophy. How enormously they might have benefited if, under competent teachers, they had been put through a course of Greek philosophy and literature. ... The Old Testament was practically the only book they possessed ... Yet this Bible, with all that it implied, is their world, their one overmastering interest. They picked up, it is true, many current ideas, opinions, superstitions, in a fluid, unsystematic form. But all that was by the way and incidental. ... The Rabbis, for good or for evil, knew no philosophy.

From the other side of the theological aisle, the Orthodox H. Loewe concurs: "The dialectics which Halakah involved made up, to no small extent, for the lack of philosophy. The Rabbis were no philosophers ... and, as Mr Montefiore says, their outlook was limited. ... They had but a casual acquaintance with Greek thought."

This casual acquaintance, of course, had no discernable influence on the Rabbis. Abraham Cohen speculates that although some Rabbis may have been aware of Greek philosophy, "the interest in metaphysical speculation which characterized the thinkers of Greece and Rome was not shared by the teachers of Israel to any great extent." G. F. Moore cannot find Greek philosophy in Rabbinic thought: "The idea of God in Judaism is developed from the Scriptures. The influence of contemporary philosophy which is seen in some Hellenistic Jewish writings — the Wisdom of Solomon, 4 Maccabees, and above all in Philo — is not recognizable in normative Judaism, nor is the influence of other religions. ..." Similarly, Adin Steinsaltz declares: "Some of the mishnaic and talmudic sages were acquainted with Greek and classical literature, but this knowledge had almost no impact on their way of thinking where talmudic scholarship was concerned. In this they differed greatly from Egyptian Jewry which tried to combine Greek culture with Judaism." Saul Lieberman, arguably the greatest Rabbinic authority of the last century and a leading expert on Hellenistic influence in Judaism, admits that some purely Greek ideas penetrated into Rabbinic circles, but these were limited to ethical principles and Greek legal thought. Rabbinic literature, for example, abounds with Greek and Roman legal terms, and quotes verbatim from Gentile law books. Nevertheless, Lieberman emphatically rejects the influence of Greek philosophy on Rabbinic thought. The Rabbis never quote a Greek philosopher, never use Greek philosophic terms, and they mention only one prominent Greek philosopher: Epicurus, the embodiment of infidelity and "symbol of heresy," whose views the Rabbis regarded as worse than atheism, and whose advocates the Rabbis excluded from the world to come. Lieberman concludes: "They [the Rabbis] probably did not read Plato and certainly not the pre-Socratic philosophers. Their main interest was centered in Gentile legal studies and their methods of rhetoric."

In fact, the Rabbis distrust, resist, and even despise Greek philosophy. The Talmud, for instance, indicates the proper time to study Greek philosophy:

Ben Damah the son of Rabbi Ishmael's sister once asked Rabbi Ishmael, May one such as I who have studied the whole of the Torah learn Greek wisdom? He thereupon read to him the following verse, This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night. (Josh 1:8) Go then and find a time that is neither day nor night and learn then Greek wisdom.

Other Rabbis were more to the point, equating the breeding of swine to the learning of Greek philosophy: "Cursed be the man who would breed swine and cursed be the man who would teach his son Greek wisdom." The Rabbis distrusted Greek philosophy, with its naturalism and rationalism, because it threatened religious faith and eroded traditional Rabbinic training. One Rabbi reported: "There were a thousand pupils in my father's school, of whom five hundred studied Torah and five hundred studied Greek philosophy; and from them none were left but myself and my nephew." The Rabbis even exclude the Epicureans, who deny providence, from the world to come. Cohen well summarizes the Rabbinic attitude toward Greek philosophy: "So far as Greek thought [philosophy] is concerned, there is almost unanimity against it."

This hostility, of course, arises from their differences. Greek philosophers trusted in reason and the senses; the Rabbis trusted in God and the Prophets. Greek philosophers believed in a pagan god subject to law, nature, and fate; the Rabbis, in the God who transcended all these. Greek philosophers connected God to the world pantheistically or semi-pantheistically; the Rabbis separated God from his creation. Greek philosophers rejected supernaturalism, providence, and creation ex nihilo; the Rabbis heartily embraced them all. The occasional similarity — the notion of divine perfections or of certain monotheistic ideas — is coincidence or, more likely, the result of general revelation (Rom. 1:18ff). In the end, Greek philosophy and Rabbinic thought are like oil and water, like iron and clay: they cannot mix, they cannot adhere.

Historians are just as emphatic as the Rabbis and modern Rabbinic authorities in rejecting Sanders's claim. Solomon Grayzel, for instance, writes:

For the Jews of Judea did not come in touch with the highest Greek civilization, not even with as high a Greek culture as surrounded the Jews of Alexandria. Even if they had met the real Greek culture, that of the famous Greek philosophers and poets, the Jews would still have rejected it as inferior to the culture of Judaism, though they might have had some respect for it.

Likewise, G. F. Moore, also a historian of religion, states:

The Jewish conception of God is derived from the Bible, and from the purest and most exalted teachings of the Bible, such as are found in Exod 33ff, Hosea, Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, Isaiah 40-5, and the Psalms. Monotheism was reached, as has been already observed, not from reflections on the unity of nature or of being, but from the side of God's moral rule in history, and it has therefore a more consistently personal character than where the idea of unity has been derived from physical or metaphysical premises.

Allen R. Brockway rejects Greek philosophical influence, in particular Plato's influence, on the Rabbis: "The rabbis who re-invented Judaism during the second century did so, not on the basis of Platonism, but on grounds of a new intellectual contention. They held that the categories of purity established in their oral teachings as well as the Scriptures were the very structures according to which God conducted the world." The Qumran discoveries only solidify these sentiments, as Emil Schürer confirms: "Moreover, recent research has shown that the Rabbis possessed an undeniable but limited knowledge of Greek culture. ... The evidence emerging from the manuscript discoveries in the Judaean Desert largely confirms the conclusions reached so far."

Since Greek philosophy did not influence the Rabbis, Philo cannot bridge Greek philosophy with Rabbinic theology, thus wrecking Sanders's second historical claim. Philo, in fact, had little or no influence on the Rabbis. "Philo's ultimate influence was considerable," writes historian Jenny Morris, "but not, as far as one can discern, on Jewish thought. ... Jewish literature written in Greek was to be of minimal interest to the rabbinic schools of Palestine after the fall of the Temple." Similarly, G. F. Moore asserts: "Neither his [Philo's] conception of a transcendent God, nor the secondary god, the Logos, by which he bridges the gulf he has created between pure Being and the phenomenal world, and between God so conceived and man, had any effect on the theology of Palestinian Judaism." The Rabbis even disregard Philo's exposition of biblical law. In fact, the Rabbis simply ignore Philo, as Ronald Williamson indicates: "His [Philo's] life and works have a significant place within the history of Judaism (though for a long time not recognized by Judaism). ..." That is, the Rabbis did not recognize Philo. Harry A. Wolfson asserts that the Rabbis knew Philo (and Greek philosophy) only from hearsay. Rabbinic Judaism refused not only to read Philo but also to preserve his writings, as Seymour Feldman relates: "Nevertheless, it must be admitted that Philo's project had little impact upon Jews and Judaism. ... So complete was the Rabbinic commitment to systematic purity at the expense of Platonism that Philo's own work was not preserved within Judaism but only became known as a result of the work of Christian copyists." While Sanders celebrates Philo as "the leading figure in forging the biblical-classical synthesis ... followed by later Jewish, Christian and Muslim thinkers," the Rabbis, in fact, snubbed him.

To buttress his historical claim that classical theism is the product of a classical-biblical synthesis, Sanders appeals to two authorities who, he argues, defend this synthesis: the late philosopher and theologian H. P. Owen, and the eminent patristics scholar G. L. Prestige. Owen, to be sure, occasionally agrees with the openness view. He seems to deny, based on philosophical reasoning, God's foreknowledge of future free actions, for example. Moreover, he denies, or at least redefines, divine immutability. Nevertheless, Sanders misleads when he quotes Owen — "So far as the Western world is concerned, theism has a double origin: the Bible and Greek philosophy" — and then states: "Classical theism is the product of the 'biblical-classical synthesis.'" Owen is not saying that Greek philosophy corrupted scriptural teaching, as Sanders clearly implies in his citing of Owen, but that the Fathers and Philo used Greek philosophy for expression and for amplification of the divine attributes that the Scriptures teach. Owen writes, "All the divine properties I named in the preceding paragraph [infinite, self-existence, incorporeality, eternity, immutability, impassibility, simplicity, perfection, omniscience, and omnipotence] are implied in the Bible; but the expression and, still more, the amplification of them were due to the influence of Greek philosophy." To say that the Fathers (not the Rabbis) used Greek philosophical vocabulary and concepts to explain scriptural truths accurately reflects Owen, but to say or to imply that Greek philosophy distorted or corrupted scriptural truths misrepresents Owen. Owen even equates classical theism with Christian theism because "it arose within the context of orthodox belief in Biblical revelation." Clearly, Owen believes that classical theism (or Christian theism) comes from biblical revelation.

Similarly, Sanders misreads and misrepresents G. L. Prestige. Prestige never claims that the Fathers derived their theism from a classical-biblical synthesis. In fact, he states that the Fathers inherited Hebrew theism and that the "main trunk of the Christian idea of God," that is, the divine perfections, which Prestige and the Fathers called transcendence, comes from the Hebrew Prophets not from Plato. Owen does not support Sanders's historical claims; Prestige refutes them — Sanders has fallen on his own sword.

Sanders's historical claims and appeals are hopeless, in whole and in part. They should raise the eyebrows, if not the hackles, of historians. These errors are serious, ominous with implications and grave with consequences for the openness view.


One such consequence is that their theological claims are partially joined at the hip to their historical claims. The openness view, in fact, recognizes and concedes that Judaism and Christianity maintain the traditional view of God. This concession, however, is potentially embarrassing — have virtually all Jews and virtually all Christians throughout history misread the Old Testament? To explain their concession and to avoid this embarrassment, openness advocates thus advance a historical argument appealing to the influence of Greek philosophy. Their argument, though implied, is clear: if the Rabbis and church fathers had followed the Bible instead of Greek philosophy, they too would have embraced an open view of God. But this explanation has already failed because their historical argument has completely collapsed.

Still, it is helpful to observe the insuperable chasm between Rabbinic theology and openness theology, because the same chasm separates traditional Christian theology from openness theology. Moreover, it is helpful to understand the actual source of Rabbinic theology, because Rabbinic theology and traditional Christian theology drink from the same well. Modern Rabbinic authorities describe the Rabbinic view of divine providence, foreknowledge, and even foreordination, in words that would bring a smile to the divines of Dordt or Westminster. Kaufmann Kohler, for example, depicts God's sovereign rule over human affairs as follows: ... God is Ruler of a moral government. Thus He directs all the acts of men toward the end which He has set. Judaism is most sharply contrasted with heathenism at this point. Heathenism either deifies nature or merges the deity into nature. Thus there is no place for a God who knows all things and provides for all in advance. ... On the other hand, Judaism sees in all things, not the fortuitous dealings of a blind and relentless fate, but the dispensations of a wise and benign Providence. It knows of no event which is not foreordained by God. ... A divine preordination decides a man's choice of his wife and every other important step of his life.


Excerpted from "Beyond the Bounds"
by .
Copyright © 2003 John Piper, Justin Taylor, and Paul Kjoss Helseth.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Part 1Historical Influences
1The Rabbis and the Claims of Openness Advocates23
2Genetic Defects or Accidental Similarities? Orthodoxy and Open Theism and Their Connections to Western Philosophical Traditions43
Part 2Philosophical Presuppositions and Cultural Context
3True Freedom: The Liberty That Scripture Portrays as Worth Having77
4Why Open Theism Is Flourishing Now111
Part 3Anthropomorphisms, Revelation, and Interpretation
5Veiled Glory: God's Self-Revelation in Human Likeness--A Biblical Theology of God's Anthropomorphic Self-Disclosure149
6Hellenistic or Hebrew? Open Theism and Reformed Theological Method201
Part 4What Is at Stake in the Openness Debate?
7The Inerrancy of Scripture237
8The Trustworthiness of God and the Foundation of Hope275
9The Gospel of Christ309
Part 5Drawing Boundaries and Conclusions
10When, Why, and for What Should We Draw New Boundaries?339
11Grounds for Dismay: The Error and Injury of Open Theism371
A Bibliography on Open Theism385
Scripture Index401
Person Index407
Subject Index413

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"The downsized deity of open theism is a poor substitute for the real God of historic Christianity-as taught by Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox theologians through the centuries. This book offers an important analysis and critique of this sub-Christian view of God. Well researched and fairly presented."
Timothy George, Research Professor, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University; general editor, Reformation Commentary on Scripture

"Here is a weighty tract for the times, in which a dozen Reformed scholars survey the "open theism" of Pinnock, Sanders, Boyd, and colleagues, and find it a confused, confusing, and unedifying hypothesis that ought to be declared off limits. Some pages are heavy sledding, but the arguing is clear and strong, and the book is essential reading for all who are caught up in this discussion."
J. I. Packer, Board of Governors' Professor of Theology, Regent College

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