This summer will mark 10 years since God’s saved me from the pernicious errors of open theism. In 2001, I visited a friend at a Christian college. While there I was introduced to the ideas of Gregory Boyd. Returning home with curiosity about his warfare theology and how traditional views of God’s knowledge are purportedly mistaken, I ordered his primer on the subject, God of the Possible.
Within just a few days, Boyd’s book arrived and I plunged in. The effect of the book is still evident as I turn through the underlined pages annotated by my own comments.
As a young Christian with a hunger for the Word but without any theological bearings, Boyd’s (mis)reading of Scripture persuaded me. At that point in time, I was defenseless against his arguments. Moreover, as the one who was introducing me to the subject of God’s foreknowledge, Boyd took my natural bent towards self-autonomy and pushed it beyond the bounds of orthodoxy. I was taken out to sea without any idea of my perilous position.
For the next six months, I evangelized for open theism, incorporating it into my Bible studies. But God in his perfect foreknowledge knew that this wrong turn would be overturned before summer’s end. At the completion of the school year, I moved to Virginia Beach, Virginia. There, with 60 other college students, I participated in a Campus Crusade for Christ “Summer Project.” It was there that God sent me a lifeboat and brought me back to shore.
Reflecting on that summer, I recall much confusion. There was the phone call to my pastor, whose biblically vacuous answer left me directionless. There were the heated debates among roommates and the poolside conversations with the Crusade staff. And there was the early morning investigation of God’s Word that was anything but a “quiet time.”
As the summer progressed, God opened his Word to show that he indeed declares the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:9-10), and that his deity is proven by his exhaustive and meticulous knowledge of all future events. In the moment the anguish of my soul was great, but in retrospect, I recall those summer days with fondness because God providentially led me from darkness to light. He governed my wanderings through the wilderness of open theism to embrace to the beauty of the doctrines of grace. What open theism intended to tear down, God used to build up. He did not simply force his will upon mine, as is often caricatured. Just the opposite! He lovingly and carefully placed people in my life who pointed out my error and led me to the truth. Looking back, four particular means of grace stand out, and today I share them for any who are wrestling with doctrine. I pray they may be helpful for the sojourner and for the one who is faithfully correcting and teaching the whole counsel of Scripture.
First, there were two friends who stood at my side and pushed me into the Bible, challenging me to see what God says about his sovereignty, foreknowledge, and election. Together, God used them to answer questions and spur me on to a comprehensive understanding of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.
Looking back, both friends exhibited the character of that Paul described in 2 Timothy 2:24-25: “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.” With patience and persistence these men not only taught me the doctrines of grace, they also exemplified grace.
Second, God used biblically grounded books and articles to help me wrestle with the Bible. These books were not clever, but they were clear. They compiled text after text to show how my view of God came from an incomplete reading of Scripture.
From my own Bible reading, certain passages stood out while others were unknown. By unintended implication, the former crowded out the latter, leaving me with a truncated view of God. Coupled with my experience of decision-making, arguments for man’s cooperation and participation in his own salvation made more sense. All of this was the case, until these Scripture-saturated books confronted my errant thinking.
Providentially, I was introduced to a number of authors that summer. Wayne Grudem (Systematic Theology), John Piper (Desiring God and countless Internet articles), and Bruce Ware (God’s Lesser Glory) opened my eyes to behold the glory of God that was shrouded by open theism. As trusty tour guides, these fathers in the faith walked me through the Bible, introducing me to never-before-seen vistas of glory.
Looking back, God of the Possible overwhelmed me with its argument for an open God. However, I did not detect the way that Boyd’s exegesis was forced, and his presuppositions defined his terms. But Grudem, Piper, and Ware did and thus, they threw me a lifeline.
The Good Book
Third, the most important means of grace that summer was the Bible. Truly illuminating, God’s Word showed me that hidden behind every human action is a sovereign God. It became more and more apparent from Scripture that God governs the universe and is the Lord of salvation. All of life echoes his eternal decrees.
Before, terms like “elect” and phrases like “before the foundation of the world” were dormant and distressing. But through the personal awakening that took place that summer those biblical truths have become soul-thrilling and humbling when coupled with God’s love. In fact, I remember the very moment when it happened. It was reading Romans 8:29-30. The logic of Paul was inescapable: those whom are called are justified; those who are justified are glorified. Realizing that not all are glorified (because hell is real), it must be the case that not all are called, thus God rightfully chooses some and passes over others. In a moment, the mystery of God’s elective purposes, along with his foreknowledge, was broke open with light that made me marvel at God’s eternal wisdom.
A Good, All-Knowing God
Finally, I believe, it was such wisdom that ordained my fall into open theism, so that God could later rescue me. Before God of the Possible, I was content to believe that God saved me as I chose him to be my Savior. I cared little what took place behind the scenes. I had read Romans 1-8 but not Romans 9-11. I only knew that personal determination seemed to be a part of my story. Consequently, I was wide open to the errors of open theism. I took the bait and was caught.
The irony of it all is that God of the Possible was knowingly used by God to convince me of his exhaustive, meticulous foreknowledge. Of course, the book did not do so by the content inside, but rather through the sovereign placement of that book that lead me to the friendships, books, and the Bible mentioned above. Indeed before the foundation of the world, God knew that this book would be an integral step in conforming me to the image of his Son. God is not merely a god of many possibilities; he is the God who knows how to do the impossible.
A Concluding Thought
Today, I scan the pages of God of the Possible, and find error that maligns the glory of God written in my own handwriting. It sobers me, and it cautions me that I am still prone towards error today. It reminds me that I could have gone another way, but God in his infinite mercy and hidden will designed that in my error he would send messengers to lead me to his truth.
Reflecting on this episode instructs me to be more patient, as my counselors were, with others who are now in ostensible error. It calls me to pray more for the Spirit to lead them into truth, and to plead with trepidation and confidence that God will accomplish his purposes. It stresses the importance of good books and that writers who labor to defend the faith—who often do not see the fruit of their toil—are valuable beyond words to those who are being tempted to believe false doctrines.
I pray that all of us might be humble servants of God’s Word, trusting more in the God of the Word than in our abilities to convince. Let us be slow to despair, knowing that God knows all things past, present, and future, and that as Peter says, “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials” (2 Pet 2:9). He is an all-wise God, and sometimes he takes us into the darkness to show us the light!