OpenTheism.org hosted the July 8, 2014 debate between leading reformed theologian Dr. James White and OT proponent Pastor Bob Enyart. The James White vs. Bob Enyart Open Theism Debate was filmed before a live audience in downtown Denver's historic Brown Palace hotel. The official debate webpage, at OpenTheism.org/james-white, presents the entire debate and helpful resources including a link to this page of the full transcript of Bob Enyart's opening statement.
Bob Enyart's Opening Statement from the James White debate Transcribed
Greetings everyone and hello James White. I am Bob Enyart, pastor of Denver Bible Church. Of course, regardless of our differences, I am thankful that James White loves the Lord, and mostly, that God so loved the world that He sent Jesus Christ to die for those who could not save themselves, and to give eternal life to those who trust Him.
Open Theism is the Christian doctrine that the future is not settled but open, because God is alive, eternally free, and inexhaustibly creative.
The Settled View disagrees, and as a result, claims that God cannot think a new thought, and so His creativity is not inexhaustible, but completed.
Open Theism grows as Christians realize that its foundation is not based on man, but rather, on God’s freedom.
I will show tonight that the future is open, based on three fundamental truths, God’s freedom, His attributes, and the Incarnation.
The first is God’s freedom, for He is eternally free. In the redundant terminology of theologians, we would say that God has libertarian free will. And if God is free, right now, and forever, then the future must be open.
Secondly, we will show that the Bible’s five main attributes of God are different from the five main philosophical attributes of God, which come from pagan Greek philosophy.
I will attempt to show you, visually, by flipping through the pages of the Bible, in a way that your eyes may actually help you perceive, that: the five biblical attributes of God, being living, personal, relational, good, and loving, are:
- way more important to God, and
- a better description of God.
And that the biblical attributes of God teach an open future. We will see that theologians like Dr. White hold the Settled View by using the philosophical and not the biblical attributes of God.
And thirdly, the Incarnation irrefutably shows that God is not outside of time. The Incarnation proves that God is not outside of time because the life of God the Son is being lived in a sequence. First, He existed through eternity past with only one nature, a divine nature, not having a human nature. Then, by the Incarnation, He became a Man, even, the Son of Man, taking upon Himself a second nature, our human nature. So that now and forever, He is both God the Son and the Man, Jesus Christ. For 1600 years the church has argued that the future must be settled because God is outside of time, but that collapses by the force of the central doctrine of Christianity: the Incarnation.
Now let’s look at those three truths, starting with the Incarnation.
The Incarnation shows that God is not outside of time, because God has a past. For God the Son was not eternally a Man. Back before the Incarnation, the books of Numbers and First Samuel explicitly state, that God was not a man. Moses even wrote that God is not a man, nor a son of man. So in God’s past, God the Son was not a man, and had only a divine nature, which was perfect. Then, He became a Man, as the Bible says, and became is a word that indicates change, and He took on a human nature. So now He has two natures, which is still perfect.
That proves that that God lives in sequence, which also shows that God is not outside of time, and that perfect things can change, contrary to the doctrine of immutability.
James White does not believe that God experiences sequence, but I posit that the sequence experienced by God through the incarnation is irrefutable.
(Now for those who think that time was created by God, and not an aspect of His existence, please consider that time cannot be created. Why not? Because creation means going from non-existence to existence, which itself is a before and an after. And since time therefore is a pre-condition of creating, time itself cannot be created.)
Now to the second reason for an open future, the attributes of God.
You may have been told that the five primary attributes of God are Immutability, Impassibility, Omnipotence, Omnipresence, and Omniscience. We refer to these as the OMNIs and IMs; they are quantitative. The five biblical attributes of God are that He is living, personal, relational, good and loving. These are qualitative.
The OMNIs and IMs are philosophical attributes that mix pagan Greek philosophy with theology, and they deal with quantity, like how much, or how little. For example: how much knowledge, that’s omniscience; how much power, that’s omnipotence; how much presence, omnipresence; how little emotion does God have, that’s impassibility; and their claim that He cannot change, that’s immutability.
Jesus told us in Mark 13:32 that God the Son did not know the day or the hour of the Second Coming. That falsifies the claim that God must possess all knowledge, or else He couldn’t be God. Luke shows this also, recording that Jesus, who is God the Son, grew in wisdom, and also, that Jesus grew in favor with the Father. That shows change also, in the Father. The things that God says that He did not know, and the things that the Bible says that God learned, these things disprove omniscience, and then also, they disprove immutability.
Settled view proponents like James White believe that God is impassible, which is the claim that He has no emotion. The whole Bible shows that God has emotion, yet John Calvin taught that God quote “is incapable of every feeling”; that when you read that God is angry, or grieved, its just a figure of speech. But many verses in the Old and New Testaments describe God’s emotion, with Jesus for example going from joy to weeping, and then, in Gethsemane, He became distressed, and then was in agony, until three days later, when the Lord said to the women, “Rejoice!”
Why does James deny that God has emotion? Because even that kind of change would prove that God lives in sequence. Do you get that? The doctrine of immutability dissolves in Jesus’ tears. So the Bible shows that God has emotions, which falsifies impassibility,
and also refutes immutability, because they show that He can change.
In preparation for the debate, I read the four Gospels, to highlight each verse that plainly revealed God’s biblical attributes, in yellow, and anything that looked like the OMNIs and IMs in green. I was able to highlight four verses in green.
Then for the yellow, remember the biblical attributes: that God is living, personal, relational, good and loving. Highlighting each verse in yellow that plainly demonstrated those attributes, took 15 hours.
You can visually see the results, which are: [See this at 8:06 into the YouTube video of this debate]
Thousands of verses. Highlighted in yellow. Thousands, showing that God is living, personal, relational, good, and loving.
Unlike the interpretation required to highlight the four green verses, an interpretation which Jesus Himself specifically rejected, not one of these yellow highlighted verses are in the least questionable, or arbitrary. Not one is in the least contradicted by the Lord or mitigated by any other passage. None of these is subject to metaphor. Instead, each of these verses demonstrates, boldly, in the flesh, the unequivocal doctrine of who God really is and what His attributes actually are!
Sometimes a single verse shows all five, like Mark 10:45. “[T]he Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” His life, shows He is living. The Son, shows He is personal. The Son of Man, shows He is relational. Coming to serve, shows that He is loving. And giving His life a ransom shows that He is good.
Our webpage for tonight’s debate is opentheism.org/jameswhite. It has this opening statement on it and will have all of our references. That page also lists the methodology we used to do this highlighting, describing our very conservative approach.
Let’s test how the different sets of attributes affect James White’s and our interpretations. Two hotly contested verses often put in opposition to one another, from Ephesians and First Timothy, both use the word ALL. They can’t both mean All without exception. Does God work All Things according to the counsel of His will, that is, predestining everything? Or, does God desire that All Men would be saved, that is, everyone?
First, some background. While on location in Asia Minor, studying there, we learned that Ephesus was the international center of the worship of Diana, a wild goddess who might throw a tantrum and turn you into an animal. Pagans would worship in the high places, so Paul told the Ephesians that we are blessed in the heavenly places, where Christ is seated, above any acropolis, in fact, far above all principalities and powers.
If you prioritize the OMNIs and IMs as James does, that God has all power and knowledge and can’t change, if you put those above the biblical attributes, then by those philosophical attributes you immediately conclude that the verse MUST says that God predestined EVERYTHING, for you conclude that before even reading the verse.
If instead, you prioritize those thousands of highlighted verses, the biblical attributes of God, above the OMNIs and IMs, and you focus on God being living, personal, relational, good, and loving, then the other interpretation is this. You immediately see that God really does desire ALL men, without exception, to be saved. Because that interpretation is not based on quantity but on quality and fits with His biblical attributes. So God wills that ALL would be saved. Yet as the Bible says that the lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, many others also reject God’s salvation.
Then, God being good and loving, shows that He would never predestine filth and evil. So God working all things according to the counsel of His will means that, unlike the pagan gods, who are arbitrary and capricious, everything that our God does, He does thoughtfully, according to the counsel of His will.
So Ephesians does not teach that everything that happens is done by God. For God is not even the author of confusion, let alone evil. Rather, unlike the cruel and unpredictable Greek gods, everything that our God does, All of GOD’S WORKS, not all of man’s works, but All of GOD’S works, are done deliberately, and out of His goodness.
So by the biblical attributes we reject the OMNIs and IMs interpretation, and see that God wants everyone to be saved and also, that not everything is settled but rather, everything God does is for good reason.
So by prioritizing the attributes highlighted in thousands of verses, above the quantitative OMNIs and IMs, you get a powerful, biblical framework for interpreting the Bible, which never leads to the Settled View but to the God who is eternally free. And those thousands of highlighted verses are just in the Gospels. There must be more than 10,000 such passages throughout Scripture, that show the biblical attributes of God.
And that framework makes sense because the Bible shows which set of attributes are more fundamental, and more important, for Scripture systematically elevates God’s goodness above His power. For example, Jonah interprets the unfulfilled prophecy of Nineveh’s impending destruction, not attributing it to immutability, omnipotence, or omniscience, but to God being merciful and loving, for the prophecy did not come to pass, as Jonah put it, because God is: “gracious and merciful… slow to anger” and abundant in love, “One who repents from doing harm.” The book of Jonah is understood by the biblical attributes but it confounds the OMNIs and IMs. It says that God saw “that they turned from their evil way; and God repented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.”
That is exactly what God says in the Potter and the Clay passage, depending upon how men respond to His promises and warnings, that He will not do that which He *said* He would do, that He will not do that which He *thought* He would do.
But why does the Bible prioritize love above power? Because quality trumps quantity, and God’s primary attributes are qualitative, not quantitative. Goodness is greater than power, for might doesn’t make right, but right makes might. For as the Bible says repeatedly, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne” O God, and God’s throne represents power, and it is righteousness that is the foundation of that power
So that the banner under which we have the victory, is not a flag depicting omni-powerful nuclear weapons, but rather, the banner over us is love, showing the Lamb slain.
Just as might doesn’t make right, it cannot be that from before the foundation of the earth, that God for His glory and pleasure, decreed every thought and every action, and controls every molecule. For that would mean that all the world’s hatred and perversion flowed from the mind of God; and that, as happened in Florida, when a man abducts a little girl from her own bedroom, torments her, molests her, and buries her alive, that would mean that all of that played out in the mind of God, and that He made that man who could perform in no other way than how he was made to perform, which is why James White constantly says that all wickedness is meaningful, because even though He doesn’t want to be held to it, like Augustine, He traces all evil directly to the OMNIs and IMs. And that’s another thing about open theism, which James White has admitted, even on its face, that unlike Calvinism, open theism does not bring men to question the goodness of God.
Now, returning to the first of our three fundamental truths, we began by stating that the future is open, based on God’s freedom. The Settled View is forced to deny God’s freedom, taking away His ability to think a new thought, write a new song. For example, we believe that God was actually free to create or not to create, and in how He designed the universe. But if the Settled View acknowledges God’s actual freedom, even in what He decrees, then exhaustive foreknowledge is not an eternal attribute of God, because He could have done otherwise; yet if they deny that God was free to created differently, then, like Zeus, they trap God Himself in fate.
God is free, and therefore the future cannot be settled, but must be open.
Now, as James White quotes proof texts, he will view them through the lens of the OMNIs and IMs. With that mindset, some verses actually sound like everything is settled. But 30 times the Bible calls Him the “living God”, and living things change.
Each of the claimed proof texts based on the OMNIs and IMs has an opposite interpretation, based on the biblical attributes, that God is living, personal, relational, good and loving.
So with each verse you hear, consider two questions. First, am I being asked to interpret this by the OMNIs and IMs? And secondly, what is the other interpretation? And you will find, that there is always that other interpretation, which speaks of the Living God, who is eternally free.
For other debate resources, see opentheism.org/james-white.