Topic Article #5: The Omniscience of God and Human Freedom
by Dr. Eugene Clingman, Executive Administrator
Copyright 2006, International Church Council Project
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Each of the twenty International Church Council Project topics are essential to a sound understanding of historic Christianity, yet some have larger, farther reaching implications than others. The Omniscience of God and Human Freedom is one of those. There have been seasons in the history of the Church when this topic has been hotly debated. Today a battle is raging among evangelical theologians.
Christ’s Church through the ages (the historic Body of Christ since the Cross) has believed that God is omniscient, that is, that he knows all – past, present, and future. Among the orthodox (those who believe the simple fundamentals of Christianity) this all-knowing has meant that there is nothing that can be known or will be known that God does not already know. Christians have historically believed God knows the end from the beginning.
The current debate takes a slightly different form than it has in the past. Last November the main emphasis of the Evangelical Theological Society’s (the theologians who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible) annual conference focused on this new form of denying God’s omniscience. This new form has been dubbed “the openness of God,” after a book written by one of its proponents. This view teaches that God cannot know beforehand the free-will choices of the people he has created and therefore cannot know the future until it actually comes to pass. I have read some of the writings of the “openness” proponents, and will say that some of their arguments seem reasonable, at least on the surface.
We believe God has given us an inerrant Bible (Topic 1 of ICCP). When we come to any subject, especially the subject of God himself, we must lay aside what sounds reasonable (For the end of that can be death – Prov. 14:12.), and search out what God says about himself in his Word, the Bible. God is a God who hides himself (Isaiah 45:15), and we cannot know him unless he chooses disclose himself to us; this he has done mainly in the Bible.
The Church through the centuries has believed in the omniscience of God, and though this is not a final proof, it is very significant, for through the centuries godly men have searched the Scriptures and have continued to come to the same conclusion. If the “openness” folks feel that the teaching of these godly men and theologians through the centuries is in error, they should have compelling scriptural proof for it. I am convinced they have no such compelling scriptural proof. In fact, the belief in “openness” undermines the foundation of our inerrant Bible, for if God cannot know the future until his free-will creatures make their choices, how can the predictive prophecy of the Bible be more than a prediction of possibilities? And if predictive prophecy is only a possibility, it is also possible it will not come to pass, and we must therefore conclude the Bible does indeed contain, or at the very least, potentially contains errors.
What does the Scripture say about God’s knowledge? Isaiah 46:9,10 – “…I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.” An undeniable example of predictive prophecy fulfilled through the free-will actions men is the crucifixion (Psalm 22; Isaiah 53) in which many specific actions were prophesied including the piercing of Christ’s hands and feet, the jeering of those who looked upon his sufferings, death among the wicked (the two thieves on crosses next to him), the parting of his garments, and gambling for his outer tunic, his burial with the rich (in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea).
The denial of God’s omniscience leaves us with a God who cannot really be trusted, for such a God is ever learning, and adjusting to the new circumstances coming about through the actions of men. A non-omniscient God cannot give trustworthy guidance to his people, for he himself does not know the future; he is only able to make educated guesses about the future.
Historic Christianity (as well as ancient Judaism) believed that God is omniscient including all that is future. We believe God knows the end from the beginning, and there is nothing that he needs to learn, or will learn, for all that is is in him and from him. The International Church Council Project is laboring to reaffirm this historic truth. Our purpose is to call Christian leaders world wide to either sign onto the documents our theologians have written, or to come together with us in International Church Council to help adjust these documents so they reflect more perfectly the true teaching of the Bible. (For North America, the documents are final. However, the other nations will have opportunity to give input, only thus can this effort be truly an International Church Council Project.)