God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God by Gregory A. Boyd (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000. 176 pp

The founder and senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church, Greg Boyd received his Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary, his M.Div. from Yale Divinity School, and his B.A. from the University of Minnesota. In addition to teaching at Bethel University, Boyd founded Christus Victor Ministries, a nonprofit organization that promotes Boyd’s writing and speaking. He is a recognized theologian and author of numerous books including best-seller, Letters from a Skeptic. Married to his wife Shelley for 28 years, Gregory resides in St. Paul, Minnesota.

When Bible Study Becomes Scary

When I was young, my parents hosted a couples’ Bible study on Sunday nights. While my parents studied in the community of believers, I listened to music and played video games in the office.
One Sunday evening, I remember my mother visibly shaken after a study. During the Bible study, one member shared with the group his personal study on the actions God cannot perform. The very thought, to my mother, seemed heretical. God is God right? God can do anything!
But the personal study held certain amounts of truth. God promised that he would never destroy the earth by flood again; the Bible tells us that God cannot lie. In both instances, God intentionally limits himself.
Despite general agreement amongst the Evangelical church about God’s limits, many Christians believe that the all-powerful God knows the future comprehensively. But does Scripture point to this theological belief?

In God of the Possible, theologian and pastor Gregory Boyd argues for the open view of God: a perspective that suggests God does not conclusively know the future.

The Classical View of Foreknowledge

Classically, Christianity echoes platonic sentiments which espouse a philosophy of an unchanging and limitless God. From these principles, Christians argue that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omni-present. But Boyd questions,

“If the future is indeed exhaustively settled in God’s mind, as the classical view holds, why does the Bible repeatedly describe God changing his mind? Why does the Bible say that God frequently alters his plans, cancels prophecies in the light of changing circumstances, and speaks about the future as a ‘maybe,’ a ‘perhaps,’ or a ‘possibility’? Why does it describe God as expressing uncertainty about the future, being disappointed in the way things turn out, and even occasionally regretting the outcome of his own decisions? If the Bible is always true—and I, for one, assume that it is—how can we reconcile this way of talking about God with the notion that the future is exhaustively settled in his mind” (11)?

The Open View of God

Given these questions, Boyd proposes the open view of God: the idea that God, as illustrated in Scripture, is capable of changing his mind regarding future events. Instead of a God so set in determined actions as a micromanager, Boyd argues that God is personable, capable of being swayed, and a kind ruler. Yet despite a belief in an open future, Boyd points toward a God who remains all-powerful. He argues,

“Open theists, rather, maintain that God can and does predetermine and foreknow whatever he wants to about the future. Indeed, God is so confident in his sovereignty, we hold, he does not need to micromanage everything. He could if he wanted to, but this would demean his sovereignty. So he chooses to leave some of the future open to possibilities, allowing them to be resolved by the decisions of free agents. It takes a greater God to steer a world populated with free agents than it does to steer a world of pre-programmed automatons” (31).

In other words, Boyd maintains that God manages a world of choices within parameters that God has set in his infinite power. As an analogy, if I plan to travel to New York City, I must make choices regarding my travel plans in order to ensure successful transportation. Yet, my decisions only make sense given the assumption that New York City exists.
At its core, God of the Possible contends that Christians must rethink the way they interpret the Bible. Currently, the seemingly contradictory passages about free will and determinism are often interpreted in such a way that one set is read literally and the other figuratively. Boyd believes, however, that an open theism allows for a literal reading of both free will and deterministic passages.

A Mischaracterization of the Classical View

Although Boyd offers compelling arguments, I believe he misunderstands the central reasons for belief in an all-powerful, all-knowing, and ever-present God. While many critics believe that such a God limits free will and arbitrarily chooses those who are saved and those who are condemned, Christians who believe in determinism possess such ideas because they do not feel like humanity is capable of understanding spiritual truths by their own power.
Put differently, deterministic Christians ask, “Who are we to choose salvation? If we have the power to make this decision, are we not more powerful than God?” God must reveal himself to a Christian before a response. Wouldn’t this God know those who choose him and those who do not?

Foreknowledge: Having Your Cake and Eating It Too

Additionally, I think God of the Possible rejects determinism in order to side with free will. Despite the attempt to accept both conflicting ideas, Boyd leans toward free will. I suggest, however, that both free will and determinism can exist with an all-powerful God.
Imagine you must make a choice between two options. Supposing God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and ever-present, God would know the causal chain behind either of the choices you could make. Thus, God not only knows how the future will unfold given the choice you make, he also know the course of events from the choice you didn’t make. Expanding this principle to every choice from every person, and you have a God who knows everything that everyone will ever do while we at the same time maintain free will.
While complicated, I suggest that such an idea better describes the seemingly contradictory statements as seen in the Bible. Are there things God can’t do? Perhaps. Scripture certainly hints at ways in which God limits himself. Nevertheless, self-limitation does not mean that God is not all-powerful, all-knowing, and ever-present. With God of the Possible, Gregory Boyd asks some interesting questions. Yet, I find his arguments inconclusive. God of the Possible is worth a read, but do so with a critical eye.

Verdict: 3 out of 5
Posted by: Donovan Richards
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6 Comments Leave a comment
  • Douglas Ray Haines

    Great insight. I agree with Boyd's view of “open theism,” but tend to agree with your “Having your cake” stance.

  • Donovan Richards

    It's good to hear from you Doug! I find it hard to take a hard-line stance either with Calvinism or Arminianism. Given that Scripture discusses both free will and determinism, we really ought to develop a theology that affirms both. Both sides have good things to say but I don't think we should dismiss the other side's argument.

    Hope all is well with you!

  • hopeinbrazil

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on a complicated issue.

  • bekahcubed

    Thanks for this review. I don't think I'll probably be reading this book, but I appreciate hearing your thoughts on the topic. For a middle via between Calvinism and Arminianism, I'm very interested in reading William L. Craig's The Only Wise God. Wayne Grudem describes Craig's position on free will as “certainly not the kind of freedom that most Arminians would accept”–but still classifies Craig as an Arminian. 'Course, this position may very well serve only to upset both sides of the free-will/determinism crowd 🙂

  • Seth

    I loved this book, just because I enjoy cogent arguments for theological positions, even if I don't agree with them. I'm not sure foreknowledge answers *all* the questions raised by Boyd, but I'm also not convinced of the Open position. What bugs me is when determinists caricature the Open view, saying that it claims God *can't* know the future.

    The question of free will vs. determinism is still something I'm pondering, but I'm not sure it's important to figure it out soon. I don't have any trouble accepting John Piper and Greg Boyd as brothers in Christ.

    I actually reviewed this one a little more than a year ago. You can check out my thoughts here:


  • Donovan Richards

    Rebekha, thanks for the comment. I haven't read any Craig but I openly affirm any stance that attempts to promote both determinism and free will. I'd love to read a review of The Only Wise God once you've read it!

    Seth, I enjoyed you review; thanks for sharing it. I think you are right in concluding that the free will/determinism debate is not a core theological tenet. It's fun to discuss these ideas but these conflicts ought not force anyone into a war on heresy.

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