I am not an open theist. Open theism is the idea that the potentially omniscient God has intentionally set aside His foreknowledge for the time being so that we can have free will. To me, this is simply an Arminian counterpart to multiple point Calvinism, just as "this universe" think. It takes the beef of Calvinism with free will too seriously.
On the other hand, I don't quite get why it ticks so many conservatives off. In some cases, it's probably because the person in question confuses it with process theology (which involves the idea that God is evolving with the world). But, seriously, as far as taking the Bible literally, open theists take the Bible way literally.
"And God repented that He had made humanity" (Gen. 6:6)
Taken literally, this implies that God changed His mind. Open theists take this as it appears. And for this "take the Bible as it appears" approach, places like Huntington College fire a person? I feel sorry for these people. My advice to any budding open theists out there? Don't tell anyone. You're way too conservative for a liberal to hire you, and other conservatives have blacklisted you.
For me, God knew the Flood generation would do these things, and He knew what He would do in response, but He did not force humanity to behave as it did and there is a possible world in which humanity did not. For the Calvinist, neither the changing of His mind or the opportunity of humanity to do differently ever existed.
Now which of these interpretations is most biblical? Answer: the open theist's interpretation. The author of Genesis (I'll respect the text and listen to the fact that it nowhere tells who its author is), writing way before anyone understood omniscience the way we do, probably did think that God changed His mind here.
Now me, I believe that the flow of revelation on omniscience has continued beyond the days of Genesis. It is the consensus of Christendom that God knows all things. He cannot thus literally change His mind because He knew exactly what the Flood generation would do. But the statement, "he repented" is a true metaphor. It is a true expression of the value God assigned to the actions of the Flood generation. For me, God's script was written before the creation of the world outside of time, but He did not write this part of the script for humanity in time. For the multipoint Calvinist, God wrote the script for both Himself and humanity before the creation, before time. God is playing chess with Himself.
Of the three groups, only the first could authentically hold to sola scriptura at this point (but of course would have to abandon it once they moved beyond this verse). I have never claimed it, and the paleo-orthodox Calvinist system, once again, explodes in incoherence. The text itself here does not at all suggest their theology, so clearly it is something outside the text that is driving their appropriation of this text. I recognize these extra-scriptural elements, so I'm still coherent. They deny it, and their theology deconstructs.
But there are passages that, if taken at least in a superficially literal way, seem to imply a straightforward predestination without human choice. What about these passages? Since these are "controlling verses" for the multi-pointer, the Calvinist on these verses does not reinterpret them the way they do verses like Genesis 6:6.
And not only [this], but Rebecca also, having the bed of one man, Isaac our father. For not yet having been born, and not having done something good or bad, in order that the purpose of God according to election might remain not from works but from the One who calls, it was said to her, "The greater will serve the lesser, just as it is written, "I have loved Jacob, but Esau I hated."
What will we say then? There isn't injustice with God, is there? God forbid! For to Moses He says, "I will have mercy on whomever I have mercy and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion."
So then it is not of the one who will nor of the one who runs but of God who shows mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharoah, "I have raised you up for this itself, so that I might demonstrate my power in you and so that I might proclaim my name in all the earth. So then He has mercy on the one He wills and He hardens the one whom He wills.
Then you will say to me, "Why then does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?" O human, indeed, who are you who are accusing God? "The moulded won't say to the moulder, why have you made me this way, will it?" Or doesn't the potter have authority over the clay to make from the same lump one vessel to honor and another to dishonor? And [what] if God bore with great patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction to demonstrate wrath and to make known His power and in order to make known the wealth of His glory on the vessels of mercy which He prepared for glory? (Romans 9:10-23).
Wow! Difficult verses! In fact, I have serious questions about your Christianity if you don't find these verses difficult. Why? Because they, at least on an isolated first read, sound as if they contradict the very essence of the gospel: "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."
Let's dig a little deeper here though. Like God repenting that He made humanity, there are strong reasons to be very careful about making this the controlling passage on your understanding of God.
1. What is the context?
The context is that Paul has been arguing throughout Romans that Gentiles can be justified before God without converting to Judaism, without engaging in works of law. You can see why a Jew would complain about Paul's theology: "I follow all these rules--they're in the Bible for goodness sakes Paul! Now you're telling me a Gentile can be okie dokie with God just by trusting in what God has done in Christ? That's not fair at all!"
Paul's answer? "Shut up, clay, God can do what He wants." If God wants to declare the Gentiles righteous on the basis of their faith, He's allowed because He's God.
Now I agree with this. Does the Calvinist? Can God give humans free will if He wants? What if God wanting to show His love for the world, gave everyone a chance to be saved? Could He do it? I say yes he could. The Calvinist says no. So I respond, but who are you, clay, to tell God "why have you acted thus?"
Could God have forgiven all humans by divine command, without any sacrifice at all if He wanted to? The Calvinist responds no. I respond, but who are you, clay to tell God what He can and cannot do?
My first point is that the multi-pointer has seized on the wrong point in interpretation. The right point is that God is allowed to will whatever He wills. The Calvinist, instead, seized on the point, "we cannot do whatever we will." My second is that the Calvinist use of this passage is incoherent, because in the end they do the same thing as the clay in a different way.
To be sure, Paul is using OT individuals to make his points (Pharoah, Jacob, Esau), but his point is not about individual predestination here. Paul's point is that God can let the Gentiles in if He wants to, period. He's God.
I deliberately ripped these verses from that context because that's what most Calvinist readers of this passage do. But now let's look at the verses that surround it. For example, the next verse after I left off reads:
"With regard to whom [vessels He prepared for glory] He also called us, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles, as also He says in Hosea, 'I will call the not my people, my people,' ... and Isaiah cries out about Israel, '... the remnant will be saved...'
What then will we say? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness received righteousness ... and Israel, who pursued a rule of righteousness, did not attain the rule.
Paul is thus not laying down a theology of individual predestination here, even if the passage raises those questions for us. Paul is arguing over the inclusion of the Gentiles into the people of God in the way God is including them.
2. When we place the "naughty verses" in the context of the whole of Romans 9-11, their entire tone changes. Is Paul arguing, "So, yeah, the Jews are toast because God has sovereignly decided to waste them"? God forbid. What is Paul's feeling toward them?
"Brothers, the good pleasure of my heart and petition to God about them is for salvation" (Rom. 10:1).
Notice that Paul does not treat their fate as fixed already here. The tone is one of wanting them to be saved, not of their destiny being fixed.
In fact, Paul believes the currently hardened will be saved (Rom. 11:26). Throughout Romans 11, the possibility of Israel's salvation, of being grafted back in, is present throughout. This does not at all fit the conclusion the multi-pointer usually takes from Romans 9, that God has set all these things in stone before the foundation of the world. Even those who are hardened can become unhardened!
This is not Calvinist theology.
3. Biblical predestination language functions biblically as a posteriori rather than a priori language.
Paul's writings would not say the things they say if predestination language functioned for Paul the way the multi-pointer thinks it does. If the Calvinist "language game" of predestination was Paul's game, then predestination language would have predictive force. We would expect Paul to give up on Israel, because their hardened hearts indicate God did not predestine them.
Certainly if Paul thought the way Calvin did, he would not say, "They haven't stumbled so as to fall have they? God forbid! But by their stumbling salvation [has come] to the Jews to make them jealous. But if their stumbling [was] wealth to the world and their defeat wealth to the Gentiles, how much more [wealth will be] their inclusion."
See, the predestined can be repredestined! How do we know God has hardened Pharaoh? Because we see a hardened Pharaoh. But a hardened Pharaoh can also become an unhardened Pharaoh.
Paul's arguments thus do not reflect the presuppositions of Augustine and Calvin. These theologians connected predestination to a prior determinism--they moved theoretically from before to after. Paul connects this it to a subsequent state of affairs--he moves practically from after to before. This is true of how he uses the language, despite the sound of his words in this part of Romans 9. Augustine is the one who connected before and after using logic. Paul's language of predestination, on the other hand, does not govern the rest of his theology. He does not logically follow some of the comments in this chapter through to a straightforward logical conclusion.
In the words of Inigo Mantoia of the Princess Bride, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
In conclusion, however, I want to remind us that the entirety of Calvinist theology falls apart on one verse (actually, many verses, but who's counting?)
"If we continue to sin willfully after we have received a knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment."
If a person can have appropriated Christ's sacrifice, and then end up facing judgment, then it is possible for a saint not to persevere. But if a Christian might not persevere, then grace is resistable and election is not unconditional, in fact election is changable. And the Calvinist system, so admirable for its logic, unfortunately turns out not to be God's logic.
So in the words of 2 Peter 1:10, "So, brothers [and sisters], be diligent to make your calling and election firm, for if you do this, you will never stumble at some time." But if one's election can be unfirm, then I don't think that word means what you think it means.