Greg Boyd just posted a short article on his blog: “Does the Open View Limit God?” His thesis is simply stated: open theists do not limit God, as they agree with classical theists that God knows everything that can be known; therefore the open God is properly described as omniscient.
The issue is not about God’s knowledge at all. Everyone agrees he knows reality perfectly. The issue is the content of the reality God perfectly knows—how many things and what kind of things there are on the “plot of land” we call the future. If everything in the land of the future is settled, then we must all grant that God would perfectly know this. But if there are fewer things in the land of the future that are definite and more things that are possible, then we must grant that God would perfectly know this. … Many evangelicals have accused open theists of limiting God by denying that he foreknows the future as exhaustively settled because they assume that the future is exhaustively settled. If this assumption is granted, then of course anyone who denied that God foreknew the future as exhaustively settled would be limiting God. But open theists do not share this assumption. The accuracy of the classical assumption that the future is exhaustively settled needs to be examined in the light of Scripture. [emphasis mine]
There’s something wrong here, perhaps several things wrong here. Unless I’m misreading him, Boyd appears to believe that if we can demonstrate (presumably by scriptural exegesis but perhaps he might also allow philosophical reflection) that the future is not definitively settled, then this entails that God does not foreknow the future—or at least that he does not know the future as definite but only as possibilities. I suppose the argument could also be run from the other end: because God does not exhaustively foreknow the future (though he certainly possesses a comprehensive knowledge of all possibilities and probabilities), therefore the future is not exhaustively settled. Underlying all of this, I think, is the unstated fear that if God does foreknow the future as actuality, then we are trapped in a fatalistic, deterministic universe.
But it seems to me that Boyd is going about the question all wrong. Maybe there are evangelical “classical theists” out there who begin their reflections with the premise that the future is exhaustively settled, but most classical classical theists do not. Real classical theists begin with the premise that the eternal God is the creator of time and therefore transcendently exists outside of time: hence it does not make sense to speak of God as foreknowing the future, as if he exists within the world as a finite temporal agent.
Human beings exist in time and therefore apprehend the future as that which has not yet happened. By definition it does not exist. Whether future events are completely determined by antecedent events and conditions is something philosophers and scientists can argue about. But if, as classical theists maintain, God exists outside of time, then it doesn’t make sense to speak of him as foreknowing the future. He does not know things before they happen; he knows them as they happen. With his usual clarity C. S. Lewis faithfully states the classical position:
Everyone who believes in God at all believes that He knows what you and I are going to do tomorrow. But if He knows I am going to do so-and-so, how can I be free to do otherwise? Well, here once again, the difficulty comes from thinking that God is progressing along the Time-line like us: the only difference being that He can see ahead and we cannot. Well, if that were true, if God foresaw our acts, it would be very hard to understand how we could be free not to do them. But suppose God is outside and above the Time-line. In that case, what we call “tomorrow” is visible to Him in just the same way as what we call “today.” All the days are “Now” for Him. He does not remember you doing things yesterday; He simply sees you doing them, because though you have lost yesterday, He has not. He does not “foresee” you doing things tomorrow; He simply sees you doing them: because, though tomorrow is not yet there for you, it is for Him. You never supposed that your actions at this moment were any less free because God knows what you are doing… In a sense, He does not know your action till you have done it: but then the moment at which you have done it is already “Now” for Him. (Mere Christianity, p. 145)
Eternity is quite distinct from perpetuity, from mere endless continuance in time. Perpetuity is only the attainment of an endless series of moments, each lost as soon as it is attained. Eternity is the actual timeless fruition of illimitable life. Time, even endless time, is only an image, almost a parody, of that plentitude; a hopeless attempt to compensate for the transitoriness of its ‘presents’ by infinitely multiplying them. That is why Shakespeare’s Lucrece calls it ‘thou ceaselss lackey to eternity’ (Rape, 967). And God is eternal, not perpetual. Strictly speaking, he never forsees; He simply sees. Your ‘future’ is only an area, and only for us a special area, of His infinite Now. He sees (not remembers) your yesterday’s acts because yesterday is still ‘there’ for Him; he sees (not forsees) your tomorrows acts because He is already in tomorrow. As a human spectator, by watching my present act, does not infringe upon its freedom, so I am none the less free to act as I choose in the future because God, in that future (His present) watches me acting. (The Discarded Image, p. 89)
Lewis speaks of God’s eternal “now,” but he would no doubt agree that the language of “now” is itself misleading, as all of our “nows” are necessarily informed by our experience of time. When we speak of the divine eternity, therefore, we really have no idea what we are talking about. It’s a piece of negative theology. According to Richard Swinburne, St Thomas Aquinas viewed the matter along similar lines:
God, Aquinas held, is outside time. He lives in a timeless eternity. Everything which he knows is simultaneous with his knowing it, for the divine present moment is simultaneous with moments which we call present, past, and future. Strictly speaking, God does not foreknow anything. He knows it as it happens, but there is no moment at which he does not know it. (The Coherence of Theism, pp. 178-179)
Hence the classical theist has no problem affirming that the future is not exhaustively determined; but he does so not because he thinks he understands the relationship between creaturely temporality and divine eternity—he knows it to be an unfathomable mystery—but because he does not think of the transcendent Creator as a temporal entity who experiences time and history as we do.