God, Open Theism, and the Uncertainty Principle in Biblical Narratives

God, Open Theism and the Uncertainty

Principle in Biblical Narratives

by Mark Mountjoy

Scripture text:“But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in my vineyard.’ 29 He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. 30 Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?”  They said to Him, “The first.”  Jesus said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him” (Matthew 21:28-32). 

Introductory Remarks

Plenty of controversy and alienation has been generated down through the years about whether God alone or God and man have a mutual role to play in decisions and choices related to salvation, election, and eternal life.  With the advent of the Protestant Reformation Movement John Calvin brought some of the more radical views of St. Augustine back into the spotlight where they have remained a source of controversy and division among Christians for the past five hundred years.  But within the last thirty or forty years Christians, more and more, have been discovering (to their amazement) the surprising fact that the Second Coming (which was supposed to happen in the lifetime of the first Christians) did happen in the lifetime of the first Christians.   With this new information, Christians from different 'wings' or sectors of Christianity have been thrown together—Calvinists, Armenians, Trinitarians and anti-Trinitarians, Unitarian Universalists, Arians and Modalists—you name it. 

In thirty year's time there has not been a concerted effort to sort this mass of uncoordinated people into a workable and orderly aggregate body under one religious designation—until now.  But with these stark differences of opinion about the validity of Calvinism or Free-will, how will it be feasible or possible to take realistic steps to establish a stable and unified church?  With these bewildering differences and disparate nuances how can we ever hope to pen and cement an agreement between Christians wanting to form a body in one judgment about what the Bible teaches? 

I want to suggest in this essay that it will be impossible to convince everyone of one view.  I also would like to suggest that remaining in limbo just because some will not be persuaded to abandon Calvinism is not the way we want to go either.  What I will offer, rather, is the proposition that Atavist sympathizers close ranks around specific ideas and become a unified group, not only around a seventy year Judaeo-Idumean-Israelite eschaton stretching from A.D.66 to A.D.136, not only around a strong Trinitarian outlook and a steadfast high Christology, not only a group committed to a strong and robust ecclesiology and missiology, but also a group that upholds, as sacrosanct, the validity of Open Theism as the one Biblical tenet on the questions that we believe Reformed theology does not Scripturally address. 

In this way those who agree to disagree with what God says about himself can go their separate ways and the people who agree to agree with the Lord can remain and make up our ranks so that we can get busy occupying ourselves with other important matters that will define and characterize us as a new Christian people group. 

Over the years I have noticed that the Calvinist controversy often revolves around prooftexts (but very rarely around extended narratives).  Open theism, on the other hand, is a view that is heavily reliant on the truth and implications of extended narratives.  What do we mean by 'truth of the narratives'?  By 'truth of the narrative' we mean the plot, the storyline, the epitome.  The truth of the narrative can be found by reading not only short, concise verses, but whole passages and whole chapters and asking oneself, What is the point of this story (not what is the point of one verse or a random collection of verses)?  When one does this Calvinism fails to adequately address the issues.  It refuses to reiterate what the story means—as a narrative—but rather shoe-horns its preconceived formula into the story and is willing to go so far as disregard the truth of the narrative rather than own up to what it says. 

So we want to look at situations and circumstances, in the Old Testament and in the New, situations and circumstances which definitely support a narrative that God has created a truly free moral universe and in that universe man makes real and critical decisions rather than only superficial choices concealing a fate (good or bad) that was already sealed in the first place.  Moreover, we want to establish from the Bible that God himself understands some things in terms of multiple possibilities which means that uncertainty to him is not only real, but 'true' and also not to be seen as a weakness that makes him less great or less majestic.

Some examples of Scriptures that support Open Theism if read as extended narratives include:

  • The Lord Jesus' fury over Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum's refusal to repent after hearing his preaching and seeing his miracles (Matthew 11:20-24).  In his anger Jesus specifically declares that the cities of Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.  Further, he declares, if the mighty works done in Capernaum had been done in Sodom, "it would have remained to this day."  He ends by declaring that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for Sodom than for thee.  But culpability and guilt could not be possible if the onus was only on God.  Wrath and judgment and condemnation only make sense if the prosecution can attach real and genuine guilt to the defendant.  If God's will was the reason why they rejected the preaching of Jesus and ignored his mighty works that was God's doing, not these three doomed cities.  
  • The Scribes, Pharisees and Lawyers are named by Jesus as wilful sinners and condemned as guilty and culpable.  Jesus specifically states that they had no cloak for their sin, they hated him, they had seen things done that no one else ever did--but they saw and hated both the Son and the Father.  Then in verse 25 he states that it was "causeless" hatred.  This is the same kind of hatred (baseless hatred 'שִׂנְאַת חִנָּם') is what the Rabbis say led to the destruction of Jerusalem within a mere forty years from that time (John 15:22-25).
  • In John 16:7-12 we have more evidence that goes contrary to Calvinistic theory.  Here Jesus speaks of the coming of the Holy Spirit.  He speaks of the Spirit's work to reprove the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment.  But how could the Jewish world be reproved for sin if they were made only to be capable of sinning?  And how could they be reproved for unrighteousness if righteousness was withheld from them by God himself?  If they were totally depraved and unable to tell right from wrong, whose fault was that—theirs or God's?  And how could they be convicted of judgment if an alliance with the prince of the world was the only option God gave them, and no other?
  • St. Stephen in Acts 7:37-43 certainly does not seem to think the ancient sins of Judaea's fathers are God's fault.    In Acts 7:51-53 he states that the Holy Spirit was resisted by the 72 elders of the Jewish Sanhedrin in spite of the fact that Calvinism says there is such a thing as "irresistible grace." The deacon did not think so, stating, "Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did so do ye."  St. Stephen's statements show that all along the Jewish leaders withstood God dating from years back into antiquity—and, therefore, God's wanting them to go one way and not the other was not 'irresistible.'

The above examples are just the tip of the iceberg; the entire Bible is replete with story after story where the narrative presents situations where God expects one thing but the story goes another way (to his anger and disgust), or, the story goes according to his will, to his delight.  Either way, the Bible makes sense as a book of admonition, encouragement and warning if, somehow, their is an expectation of 'effort' on the part of people as sentient beings with genuine free will, rather than puppets destined to be beautified or trashed by virtue or blame solely based on God's own secret whims.

Does Romans 1 Teach Total Depravity?

Romans 1 is used by Calvinists to prove that the Bible categorizes man as totally depraved?  But does Romans one really establish that?  If we start at verse 18 and read down there are certain things in this passage that clearly suggest otherwise. 

Let's read it silently before we go on:

  • "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;  29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,  31 Without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: 32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them."

After reading this entire passage, some serious explanations are in order.  We must first try to guess what level of maturity are these people at that Paul describes?  In verses 18-19 Paul says they hold the truth in unrighteousness.  He says God showed them: Are these adults or little children, babies and newborns?  

  • In verse 20 Paul says "they are without excuse."  In verse 21 he says "they became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened."  Did they start off that way, or did they end up that way?  Paul seems to be describing the results of a downward spiral (not how people were born).  And what is more, in verse 22 these individuals say things no baby or young child would say, maybe youth, but certainly adults! 
  • Next Paul describes things babies and young children do not do; only adults engage in such vain pursuits.  Romans 1:24-28 has to be describing humans who have passed into puberty and cannot be a description of sexual activity among infants, toddlers, or a mere child!
  • If you are acquainted with the writings of Josephus and with what he says about the manners and conduct of the Zealots, Romans 1:29-31 reads like a picture-perfect description of a Zealot—a freedom fighter, a militant Jewish nationalist, called in Jewish writings a 'Buryonim'—a 'son of destruction.' 
  • There is nothing in Romans 1 (or anywhere else in Romans) where it can be shown that the Apostle Paul teaches anything about people being born with 'hereditary total depravity.'  On the contrary, the first thing Paul says in the very next chapter is that these people are "inexcusable" and in 2:15 they are described as having consciences that either accuse or excuse their conduct.  But how could a totally depraved person have such struggles if wrong was the only thing they could feel and comprehend? 

On the other hand, the openess of God can be seen in about-faces where God sees results he does not like or where he offers or demands that his creatures choose between options.  Some examples of these Scriptures include:

  • The Lord frequently changes his mind in the light of changing circumstances, or as a result of prayer (Exod. 32:14; Num. 14:12–20; Deut. 9:13–14, 18–20, 25; 1 Sam. 2:27–36; 2 Kings 20:1–7; 1 Chron. 21:15; Jer. 26:19; Ezek. 20:5–22; Amos 7:1–6; Jonah 1:2; 3:2, 4–10). At other times he explicitly states that he will change his mind if circumstances change (Jer. 18:7–11; 26:2–3; Ezek. 33:13–15). This willingness to change is portrayed as one of God’s attributes of greatness (Joel 2:13–14; Jonah 4:2).
  • Sometimes God expresses regret and disappointment over how things turned out—sometimes even including the results of his own will. (Gen. 6:5–6; 1 Sam. 15:10, 35; Ezek. 22:29–31).
  • At other times he tells us that he is surprised at how things turned out because he expected a different outcome (Isa. 5:3–7; Jer. 3:67; 19–20).
  • The Lord frequently tests his people to find out whether they’ll remain faithful to him (Gen. 22:12; Exod. 16:4; Deut. 8:2; 13:1–3; Judges 2:20–3:5; 2 Chron. 32:31).
  • The Lord sometimes asks non-rhetorical questions about the future (Num. 14:11; Hos. 8:5) and speaks to people in terms of what may or may not happen (Exod. 3:18–4:9; 13:17; Jer. 38:17–18, 20–21, 23; Ezek. 12:1–3).
  • The Lord frequently speaks of the future in terms of what may and may not come to pass (Ex.4:1-7; Ex. 13:17; Ezek 12:3).

Classical theologians often consider only the passages that demonstrate that the future is settled either in God’s mind (foreknowledge) or in God’s will (predestination) as revealing the whole truth about God’s knowledge of the future. 

In doing this, however, they interpret passages (such as the above) that suggest God faces a partly open future as merely figurative. I do not see this approach as warranted on either exegetical or theological grounds.

I am therefore compelled to interpret both sets of passages as equally literal and therefore draw the conclusion that the future that God faces is partly open and partly settled.

- See more at: http://reknew.org/2007/12/response-to-critics/#sthash.T2ymCuuq.dpuf 

 Romans 11and the Broken Branches

Romans 11:8-23 encapsulates a number of ideas that do not mesh with Calvinistic thought.  Namely predestination. Paul writes,

"As it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor,

    eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.”

9 And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; 10 let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever.”

The text describes choices the people of Israel made, but it also shows God's judicial response to it.  

The Gentiles Grafted In

11 So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. 12 Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!

13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14 in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. 15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? 16 If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.

17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root[b] of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. 23 And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again" (Romans 11:8-23).

In this chapter those given the spirit of blindness, stupor and slumber were punished and broken off because of their own unbelief, and at the very end Paul says the onus was on them (not God) to "abide not still in unbelief."  On which account he responds by grafting them back in to the tree they belong in. Let's look at yet another case.


In the Bible days female patrons, women of means (who otherwise had little power or rank in Roman society) were known to have played a key role as patrons or hostesses who opened their homes up for Christian house churches.  It is easy to imagine that this Jezebel is one of these chief women gone wrong. 

"Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols.  And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.  Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.  And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works" (Revelation 2:20-23).

What is interesting about 'Jezebel's' story and her sin is the fact that Jesus waited for her to repent and she refused.  The idea of waiting on someone to do something different that the Divinity knows will happen anyway seems odd and off on the face of it, does it not?  It seems, once again, that the onus to repent was not on God's shoulders but on hers.  It does not make sense to say God fated her to be disobedient, then was mad about it, gave her a chance to do differently (but not the ability) and so she was "doubly predestined" to be lost. 

The onus was on her and the only way the space to repent makes any sense is if it was a genuine one and not something the Holy Spirit said merely for "story value."  After all, Jesus promised to kill her and her children with death itself—and he could have killed them in the first place, without waiting another minute, if he really knew how it really was going to turn out ten billion years ago.  The onus to respond to God here is not so very different from what we find in Revelation 3 where Jesus says to the Laodicean church, 

"Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me" (Revelation 3:20).  

In the above passage, it does not follow that Christ is not 'sovereign' just because he knocks or just because he expects a response before he comes in.  It does not suggest a weakness on God's part that he does not open the door himself—even force his way—into someone's life.  So here (as elsewhere in the Bible) we do see evidence of a 'give and take,' evidence of a 'mutuality,' evidence against Divine micromanagement that the idea of meticulous fate does not have an answer for.


A Punishment Without Results:

Revelation 9:20-21

The name 'Zealot' first appears in the New Testament in Matthew 10:4.  There, one of Jesus' apostles is named Simon the Zealot.  The Zealots figure large in the history of the Late Second Temple Period.  Their party grew vocal and prominent around A.D.62 and are accused by Josephus and other Jewish chroniclers of playing a major role in the chaos, unrest and seditions that led to the Destruction of Jerusalem in A.D.70.  According to Martin Hengel the Zealots were not a new party that appeared only in the middle of the first century, but a group that had formed long before at the time of the ascent of Herod the Great to the throne of Judaea around the fourth decade before Christ.  But what is interesting about them is that they do appear prominently in the New Testament in Acts 23:21, in Romans 1:18-32; 10:1-3, in 2 Corinthians 11:12-15, in Ephesians 4:14, in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9, in 2 Timothy 3:13, in Titus in Hebrews 10:32-34 1 Peter 3:13-14, in 1 John 3:10-15, in Jude 4-16 and in Revelation 2:9 and 3:9—if we understand that they appear in these places to be described—but not named. 

Author, S. G. F. Brandon in his book, Jesus and the Zealots, accuses the New Testament authors of being disingenuous by "not naming the enemy." He believes Jesus was secretly a Zealot himself, and he believes (as do a number of modern conspiracy theorists like Reza Aslan) that the early Christians tried to hide this embarrassing fact. 

But I do not believe their hunches are supported by any solid evidence.  Instead, it appears there is a much stronger case that the New Testament describes but does not name the enemy for other pragmatic reasons: The Zealots were everywhere; they were even in the churches (Galatians 2:4; 2 Peter 2:10, 13 and Jude 12) and indirect allusions to them would communicate to them, We know exactly who you are; repent and avoid destruction (Philippians 3:18-19; 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 and Hebrews 6:8).  

So, these individuals were not new to the scene or unknown to anyone.  God knew their story, their narrative, their cause.  We can see this in Acts where they make a vow that they will neither eat nor drink until they have killed the Apostle Paul (Acts 23:12 and 21).  Everything said in Romans, 2 Corinthians, Galatians and Ephesians, Philippians and Titus fits the conduct of Josephus' description of the Zealot's to a "T." 

But what is amazing is this: In Revelation 9:20 and 21, in the midst of judgment, the text gives full evidence that God wants these Zealots to repent, yet they refuse.   And in Revelation 16:9 and 11 the passages reveal the depth of hatred for God these Zealot fighters had in the midst of their setbacks and pains, yet if God "programmed" them to be the evil wretches they were, what just blame could be laid on their shoulders?  If God made them to do exactly as they had done, on what judicial basis could they be condemned?  If they could not do otherwise, then there was no choice in the matter and the narrative swerves into a serious pointlessness that deprives God's just character of true compassion, mercy and justice. 

What God Said About Himself

Above we have touched on issues that are widespread in the Bible, cities that will not repent, Chorazim, Bethsaida and Capernaum, groups that sin, suppress and obstruct, the Scribes and Pharisees and Lawyers, the work of the Holy Spirit for sin, righteousness and judgment, resistance of the Seventy-two to the Holy Spirit "as their fathers did" and whether Romans chapter 1 really has the moral condition of humans at birth in mind at all.  In Romans 11 the onus is on the unbelieving Jews to "abide not still in unbelief" in order that God might "graft them in again."

If we understand what we are looking at, in Revelation 2 Jezebel is unwilling, rather than unable to repent.  And in Revelation 3:21 God knocks, man must (or at the very least) can open.  And finally, we came to the end of the road for the Zealots in Revelation 9 and 16 and noticed that, even as judgment and oblivion was upon them God positively wanted them to repent.  Even in the historical report made by Josephus it is pointed out how many times Titus offered them terms to surrender and they would not.  Josephus opines that this refusal was based on the gravity and heinousness of the crimes they had committed against their own countrymen—crimes they did not believe they would or could be forgiven for.

But Exodus 14 is one of many important narratives that reflect the same things we saw in each of the illustrations and stories above.  We want to examine each line of this account of the Wilderness Apostasy while asking the following question:  Is God himself causing the rebellion?  Is he angry (even furious) about the trouble he is causing himself?  Is causing the rebellion and destroying the people for what they cannot help the best way for him to get glory after bringing them all the way out of Egypt?  And if he designed the people to not regard the miracles or want to complete the trek to the promised land, on what grounds does the story make sense as an 'example' (See 1 Corinthians 10:5-11). 

The account of the Wilderness Apostasy reads as follows,

1 And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night.  2 And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness!

3 And wherefore hath the Lord brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt?  4 And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt.  5 Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel.

6 And Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of them that searched the land, rent their clothes:  7 And they spake unto all the company of the children of Israel, saying, The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land.  8 If the Lord delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey.

9 Only rebel not ye against the Lord, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and the Lord is with us: fear them not.

10 But all the congregation bade stone them with stones. And the glory of the Lord appeared in the tabernacle of the congregation before all the children of Israel.

11 And the Lord said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them?

12 I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they.

13 And Moses said unto the Lord, Then the Egyptians shall hear it, (for thou broughtest up this people in thy might from among them;)  14 And they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land: for they have heard that thou Lord art among this people, that thou Lord art seen face to face, and that thy cloud standeth over them, and that thou goest before them, by day time in a pillar of a cloud, and in a pillar of fire by night.

15 Now if thou shalt kill all this people as one man, then the nations which have heard the fame of thee will speak, saying,  16 Because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land which he sware unto them, therefore he hath slain them in the wilderness.  17 And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my lord be great, according as thou hast spoken, saying,

18 The Lord is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.

19 Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of thy mercy, and as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.

20 And the Lord said, I have pardoned according to thy word: 21 But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.  22 Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice;

23 Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it:  24 But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land whereunto he went; and his seed shall possess it.

25 (Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwelt in the valley.) Tomorrow turn you, and get you into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea.

26 And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,  27 How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, which murmur against me? I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against me.  

28 Say unto them, As truly as I live, saith the Lord, as ye have spoken in mine ears, so will I do to you:  29 Your carcases shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward which have murmured against me.

30 Doubtless ye shall not come into the land, concerning which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun.  31 But your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised.

32 But as for you, your carcases, they shall fall in this wilderness.

33 And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredoms, until your carcases be wasted in the wilderness.

34 After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know my breach of promise.  35 I the Lord have said, I will surely do it unto all this evil congregation, that are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die.

36 And the men, which Moses sent to search the land, who returned, and made all the congregation to murmur against him, by bringing up a slander upon the land,  37 Even those men that did bring up the evil report upon the land, died by the plague before the Lord.

38 But Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of the men that went to search the land, lived still.  39 And Moses told these sayings unto all the children of Israel: and the people mourned greatly.

40 And they rose up early in the morning, and gat them up into the top of the mountain, saying, Lo, we be here, and will go up unto the place which the Lord hath promised: for we have sinned.  41 And Moses said, Wherefore now do ye transgress the commandment of the Lord? but it shall not prosper.  42 Go not up, for the Lord is not among you; that ye be not smitten before your enemies.

43 For the Amalekites and the Canaanites are there before you, and ye shall fall by the sword: because ye are turned away from the Lord, therefore the Lord will not be with you.  44 But they presumed to go up unto the hill top: nevertheless the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and Moses, departed not out of the camp.

45 Then the Amalekites came down, and the Canaanites which dwelt in that hill, and smote them, and discomfited them, even unto Hormah" (Numbers 14:1-45).

In the Exodus chapter 14 text above, we notice a dynamic of conflict and compliant and threatening rebellion.  The basis of it are the hardships the people are facing and their fear of perishing in a strange and lonely place; they wish to go back; they regret their journey; they doubt every good thing they have seen and even go so far as to completely despise and disregard every beneficial act of God (the ten miracles).  They have had enough and declare their intention to raise another leader and make a U turn back to Egypt where they hope to find safety, peace, and familiarity. 

In looking at this passage with this in mind, we need to carefully note God's reaction to all this and what he says about himself, what he has done for them, and what steps he intends take in light of these disappointing developments.

In the above sad narrative we also see an apostasy gone to such lengths that God declares to Moses that none of those involved will so much as set foot in the promised land; however, the story does not make sense if we scroll back to their escape from Pharoah, their departure from the Land of Egypt, through the desert, and through the Red Sea.  If God knew from the get-go that it was absolutely certain his people would reject his ten signs, would reject Moses' leadership and would decide (at last) to turn around, why would he not drown them in the Red Sea along with the Egyptians? 

The only thing that makes any sense is that God saw the future as possibilities—and uncertainties.  

God and Sixth Century B.C. Yehud:

“If/Then” and God Trying to Avert Disaster

In another example we have an important narrative in the Book of Jeremiah.  This is another text where God plainly says, This is how I think; this is how I see things; this is how I will work with a situation.   Hear what God says about himself:

"If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. 9 And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it." (Jeremiah 18:7-10 ESV).

If God were really pulling the strings (as Calvinists claim) it would amount to a puppet-master sabotaging the dolls at his own discretion and then destroying them for doing exactly what he wanted them to do (and all the while pleading, Why didn't you obey me!?  Why did you not change your course!?).  Such a view of the narrative is simply nonsensical and incoherent!

Someone might look at the situation in Jeremiah and say, God wanted exactly what was happening.   He wanted the people of Yehud to build altars to Baal and offer their children up on white-hot molten seats in the Valley of Topheth.  God wanted them to take flour and water to make cakes to the Queen of Heaven.  God wanted lawlessness, injustice, sorcery in the First Temple, murder and adultery so he could come in with judgment and his sovereignty and righteous glory would be seen.  But does the texts say so?  Or do they say something very different?  The passages say he wanted obedience, they say he wanted Jerusalem to prosper and to stand forever in good success; they say the evil committed never came into God's mind!  As to the words of the false prophets who declared peace to Zedekiah, God said he did not speak to them and he declared that he did not send them, either.  

To go against the narrative with Calvinistic philosophical rationalizations, excuses, and denials is to muzzle the Word of God and not let it speak for itself.  It is to displace the revelation of God with a philosophic agenda that leads to very different conclusions about who God is and what he is like.  It tells us--in so many words--

"No!  God is not like what the texts says, what the texts says is for story value only.  God really wanted to destroy the people with beasts, and swords, and famine and fire so his majestic and sovereign glory could be seen in all the earth." 

And what could Bible believing Christians say to all this chatter?  What a travesty!  What a tragedy!

Plight of the Puppet Master

Now, imagine a packed venue come to see a Puppet Master masterfully working his craft on his charming puppets.  A 'husband' and 'wife,' their every movement originates in the Puppet Master's mind: if they turn left it is because of his hands; his thoughts; his intentions.  If they turn right, or move forward or backward--nothing less and nothing more can ever happen (and even when they stand still, it is because of him).  Now, imagine then how the audience would respond if the Puppet Master suddenly turned a pleasant scene into a row.  The female puppet got mad at the male puppet and the male puppet responded in kind.  Imagine what would happen if, suddenly, the voice of the Puppet Master resounded, "Stop it, stop it! both of you!" 

And then imagine what would happen if suddenly—out of nowhere—the strings of both puppets were cut, they dropped to the stage with a thud and an angry Puppet Master immediately appeared welding a big red ax.  Imagine the shock and horror of the crowd as they witness a red-faced puppet master chopping the puppets into pieces of unrecognizable shreds of wood and cloth and string.  

Would the people be upset?  They probably would!  Would the place empty quickly?  It probably would!  Everyone would leave in a hurry, uncomprehending of the motives and even the sanity of the Puppet Master.  Uncomprehending, confused, baffled, dismayed, shaken, word would soon spread of this surprisingly brutal turn of events.  And everyone would understand, plainly, that puppets can do no more and no less than what the Puppet Master wants them to do.  So then, the sudden and barbaric destruction of the puppets with swings of an ax are incomprehensible and, frankly, uncalled for.  How is this different from what Calvinist envision to be God's relationship with mankind?  How is this scene different from the idea that God intends to destroy sinners that he controls sovereignly (100%) in an eternal hell of 400 degrees celsius for emotions and actions and crimes he not only orchestrated, but also ordained. 

How does Calvinism make sense of James 1:13?  And how does the sense of Calvinism square with the wide extended story narratives of the Bible? 

Our Scripture text (Matthew 21:28-32) is a passage that tells us that people who say, 'No' to God and turn around and do his will, and people who say 'Yes' to God and fail to do anything are not both "doing his will" after all.  If Calvinism was true both would be doing the will of God, but that is not the case!  And so, I believe very firmly that this system of thought falls short of the mark and does not add up and should be rejected as unbiblical after a fair examination of its defects in light of the Bible. 


Likeminded of perception and interpretation are conducive to fellowship and will help Christians who see the merits of Atavist Bible theology, ecclesiology, missiology and eschatology to forge an affinity and unity that will be able to endure.  Through a sense of spiritual camaraderie we will be able to select and ordain a leadership that can administrate, and lead the group towards a strong sense of itself as a body of people in Christ who have definite beliefs, a definite set of goals, and a definite destiny through this life and beyond in the presence of Almighty God and the saints. 

To this end we challenge everyone to rethink the merits of Open Theism versus Calvinism and, if you agree that the Bible supports the principle of the future as partly determined and partly uncertain in the mind of God as a truth borne out in the Bible itself, please seriously consider standing with us and helping us move forward as a Christian church enterprise prepared to lay the groundwork for constructive action in the mission field of the real world.

 The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open

and Relational Account of Providence

by Thomas Jay Oord