There is a new "kid" on the world view block
called "neotheism." While claiming to be in the
camp of theism, proponents of this view make several
significant changes in the nature of the theistic God in the
direction of process theology or panentheism. They claim,
among other things, that God can change His mind and that He
does not have an infallible knowledge of the future. Since a
number of noted evangelical thinkers espouse neotheism, it
poses a significant threat to the orthodox understanding of
God. For example, if God does not know for sure what will
happen in the future, then predictions in the Bible can be
wrong. While the view is not heretical, nonetheless, it is a
significant doctrinal deviation from traditional theism and
would undermine both traditional Arminian and Calvinist
beliefs about predestination.
The nature of God is the most fundamental issue in all
It’s what theology is all about. On it stands or
falls every other major doctrine. From its inception, orthodox
Christianity has been uncompromisingly theistic. Recently, a new
view has seriously challenged this venerable history. In fact,
this view claims to be orthodox but zealously desires to make
major changes in the classical theistic view. Several proponents
of this view, including Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, John
Sanders, William Hasker, and David Basinger, have collaborated
on a volume titled The Openness of God.1 Other
Christian thinkers share similar views or have expressed
sympathy for this position, including Greg Boyd, Stephen Davis,
Thomas Morris, and Richard Swinburne.2
Neotheists have variously labeled their view
"the openness of God" or "free will theism."
Others have called this new form of theism a form of process
theology or panentheism because of its important similarities to
this position.3 Yet it seems more appropriate to call
it neotheism for several reasons. First, it has significant
differences from the panentheism of Alfred North Whitehead,
Charles Hartshorn, and company.4 Neotheism, like
classical theism, affirms many of the essential attributes of
God, including infinity, necessity, ontological independence,
transcendence, omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence.
Likewise, it shares with traditional theism the belief in ex
nihilo creation and direct divine supernatural intervention in
the world. Since process theology denies all these, it seems
unfair to list neotheism as a subspecies of that view.
On the other hand, since significant
differences exist between the new theism and classical theism,
neither does neotheism fit comfortably in the latter category.
For example, neotheism denies God’s foreknowledge of future
free acts and, as a consequence, God’s complete sovereignty
over human events. These deviations from two millennia of
Christian theology are serious enough to deserve another name,
as well as to arouse concern. It seems appropriate, then, to
call it neotheism.
One proponent, Clark Pinnock, correctly
positioned neotheism in titling his chapter in Process
Theology "Between Classical and Process Theism."
Whatever it is called, this view is a serious challenge to
classical theism and a serious threat to many important
doctrines and practices built on that view. Since they desire to
be members of the orthodox theistic camp, they have
understandably cast their view in that direction. Let’s
examine the distinctive features of their proposal.
CHARACTERISTICS AND INCONSISTENCIES OF
As the new kid on the block, neotheism
desires to make itself clear, distinct, and appealing.
Proponents list five characteristics of their position:
God not only created this world ex nihilo
but can (and at times does) intervene unilaterally in earthly
affairs. 2. God chose to create us with incompatibilistic
(libertarian)5 freedom — freedom over which he
cannot exercise total control. 3. God so values freedom —
the moral integrity of free creatures and a world in which
such integrity is possible — that he does not normally
override such freedom, even if he sees that it is producing
undesirable results. 4. God always desires our highest good,
both individually and corporately, and thus is affected by
what happens in our lives. 5. God does not possess exhaustive
knowledge of exactly how we will utilize our freedom, although
he may very well at times be able to predict with great
accuracy the choices we will freely make.6
Neotheism is a form of theism, and should not
be ranked as a heresy. Nevertheless, it is a significant
doctrinal departure from the traditional theism underlying
historic orthodoxy. As such, it deserves careful analysis.
Granting what neotheists believe about God, neotheism is
inconsistent. Moreover, it is an unnecessary aberration: the
classical theistic view of God can be logically derived from the
premises of neotheism, and the central desire of neotheists for
an interactive God is possible without giving up the classical
theistic view of God. These are just some of the problems with
neotheism that are readily apparent. (As we examine the logical
inconsistencies of neotheism it will be necessary to cover some
philosophical ground that may prove slow going for the lay
reader. A glossary has been provided to help such readers
navigate through this section.)
Creation Ex Nihilo Entails Theism, Not
Neotheism affirms with Theism that God
created the universe out of nothing (ex nihilo). God is
ontologically independent of His creation. That is, if there
were no world, there would still be God. Yet at the same time,
they claim to reject God’s traditional attributes of aseity
and eternality (nontemporality). Logically, they cannot have it
God’s Eternality Follows from Creation Ex
Nihilo. If God created the entire spatiotemporal universe,
then time is part of the essence of the cosmos. In short, God
created time. Moreover, if time is something that is of the
essence of creation, then it cannot be an attribute of the
uncreated — that is, of God.
If on reconsideration a neotheist opts to
hold that time existed before creation, then logical problems
emerge. Was time "inside" of God — that is, part of
His nature — or outside of Him? If inside, then how can God be
without a beginning, since an infinite number of temporal
moments appears to be incoherent (as proponents of the kalam
argument for God’s existence have affirmed).
If, on the other hand, time is
"outside" of God, then some sort of dualism emerges.
Moreover, if time is outside God, then we must ask whether it
had a beginning or not. If it did not, then it could be argued
that there is something outside God that He did not create,
since time is as eternal as He is. This is no longer theism in
either the classical or neotheistic sense. Yet if time is
outside of God and had a beginning, then God must have created
it (since everything with a beginning has a cause). In this
event we are right back to the theistic position that God
created time, and that God as the Creator of time is not
God’s Transcendence Implies His
Nontemporality. According to neotheism, God is beyond
creation. He is more than and other than the entire
spatiotemporal world. Again, however, if God is beyond time,
then He cannot be temporal. The neotheist might reply that God
is also immanent in the temporal world, and whatever is immanent
in the temporal is temporal. Yet a proper understanding of
God’s immanence does not make Him part of the world (as
in panentheism) but only present in the world (as in
theism). God is in the world in accordance with His being, and
His being is nontemporal. He is in it in a nontemporal way.
For example, God is a necessary being. As
such He is immanent in the contingent world, but this does not
make Him contingent. Rather, God the necessary Being is immanent
in the contingent being in accordance with His being, which is
necessary. As Creator He is immanent in His creation. This does
not mean He is part of creation just because He is present in
it. Therefore, immanence of a nontemporal God in a temporal
world does not demand that God is temporal.
God’s Uncausality and Necessity Imply His
Pure Actuality. The new theists also believe God is not
caused by any other being, and is Himself the cause of all other
beings. But if God is uncaused in His being, then He must be
Pure Actuality. For whatever is not caused never came to be; and
whatever never came to be has no potentiality in its being. But
if it has no potentiality, then it must be Pure Actuality.
To put it another way, if God is uncaused,
then He has no potential. For to be caused means to have one’s
potential actualized. But what has no actualized potential had
no potential to be actualized. Hence, God must have been pure
Actuality. Thus the neotheists’ belief that God is an uncaused
Being logically entails what they say they reject, namely that
God is a Being of Pure Actuality with no potentiality in His
The classical theistic view of God also
follows from the neotheist belief that God is a Necessary Being;
for if God is a Necessary Being then He cannot not be — that
is, God has no potential in His being not to be. Once
again, if God does not have potentiality in His being, then He
is Pure Actuality. Therefore, the classical theistic view of God
follows from what neotheists admit about God. Nevertheless,
neotheism rejects the attribute of Pure Actuality. Thus
neotheism is inconsistent and incoherent.
THEOLOGICAL CONSEQUENCES OF NEOTHEISM
In addition to the philosophical incoherency
of neotheism, there are some serious theological consequences.
Several will be briefly enumerated here.
Predictive Prophecy Would Be Fallible
If all predictive prophecy involving free
choices is conditional, then the Bible could not have predicted
where Jesus would be born. Micah, however, did predict that
Jesus would be born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2), as He was. Indeed,
the Bible also predicted when He would die (Dan. 9:25-27), how
He would die (Isa. 53), and how He would rise from the dead (Ps.
16:10 cf. Acts 2:30–31). Either these predictions are
infallible or else they were just guesses on God’s part. If
they are infallible, then neotheism is wrong, since according to
their view God cannot make infallible predictions. On the other
hand, if it is not infallible, then God was just guessing.
The same is true of most, if not all,
prophecies about the Messiah. Such prophetic fulfillments
involved free choices somewhere along the line, which —
according to neotheism — God did not know. For example, if God
does not know future free acts with certainty, then He does not
know that the beast and the false prophet will be in the lake of
fire. The Bible, however, says they will be there (Rev. 19:20;
20:10). Hence, either this prophecy is potentially false, or
neotheism is not correct. In other words, if neotheism is true,
then this prediction may be false.
Before leaving prophecy, another point must
be addressed. Neotheists claim "the problem with the
traditional view on this point is that there is no if
from God’s perspective. If God knows the future exhaustively,
then conditional prophecies lose their integrity."7
This argument confuses two perspectives. Of course, from God’s
perspective (since He knows the future infallibly) everything is
certain. As noted above, this does not mean that from the human
standpoint these actions are not chosen freely. It is simply
that God knew for certain how people would freely
exercise their choice.
It Undermines the Test for False
If all prophecy is conditional, then there
cannot be any such thing as a false prophecy. The Old Testament,
however, lays down tests for false prophets, one of which is
whether or not the prediction comes to pass. "If what a
prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or
come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That
prophet has spoken presumptuously" (Deut. 18:22). If the
neotheists are correct, however, then this test cannot be valid.
It Undermines the Infallibility of the
Not only does the neotheist’s denial that
God knows the outcome of future free acts diminish (or deny)
God’s omniscience and omnipotence, but it also entails a
denial of the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible, which
some neotheists (e. g., Pinnock) claim to believe. If all such
prophecies are conditional, then we can never be sure that they
will come to pass. Yet the Bible affirmed that they truly would
come to pass. According to neotheist thinking, such
pronouncements are not infallible, and they may be in error. On
the premise that God is only guessing, it is reasonable to
assume that some are wrong. It is begging the issue to
assume that it just so happened that all of His guesses turned
out to be right. In the end, neotheism turns Deuteronomy 18:22
upside down and makes Moses presumptuous for predicting divinely
inspired, infallible prophecy.
It Logically Leads to Universalism
Of course, the neotheist hedges his or her
bet by affirming that it is morally right for God to intervene
sometimes against free will to guarantee His ultimate desire to
provide salvation for humankind. This objection, however,
undermines the whole neotheistic position and leads to
universalism. For if it is right for God to violate freedom
sometimes for our salvation, then why not all the time? After
all, neotheists believe God desires all persons to be saved (1
Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). Consequently, universalism follows
logically from these two premises. For if God really wants
everyone to be saved and He can violate their will to assure
their salvation, then certainly He will do so. Hence, neotheism
appears to lead to universalism.
God Cannot Guarantee Ultimate Victory
As neotheists insist that God does not know
the future for sure and that He does not intervene against
freedom except on rare occasions, then it seems to follow that
there is no guarantee of ultimate victory over evil. How can He
be sure that anyone will be saved without fettering freedom? Any
limitation on freedom contradicts the neotheist libertarian view
of free will (see endnote no. 4).
Such a view is contrary to the Bible, which
predicts that Satan will be defeated, evil will be vanquished,
and many will be saved (Rev. 20—22). Yet, according to the
neotheist, since this is a moral question that involves
(libertarian) free will, then it follows that God could not know
this infallibly. If neotheism is true, then neither God nor the
Bible can be completely infallible and inerrant. Yet, as we’ve
noted, some neotheists claim that it is. This is inconsistent.
It Is Contrary to God’s
It is clear that not all God’s promises in
the Bible are for everyone. Some are intended only for some
people (Gen. 4:15). Others are intended only for a certain group
of people (Gen. 13:14–17). Some are only for a limited time
(Eph. 6:3). Many promises are conditioned on human behavior.
They have a stated or implied if in them. The Mosaic
covenant is one of this type. God said to Israel, "Now if
you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all
nations you will be my treasured possession" (Exod. 19:5,
Other promises are unconditional. Such was
the land promise to Abraham and his offspring. This is clear
from the facts that (1) no conditions were attached to it; (2)
Abraham’s agreement was not solicited; (3) it was initiated
while Abraham was in a deep sleep (Gen. 15:12); (4) the covenant
was enacted unilaterally by God, who passed through the split
sacrifice (Gen. 15:17–19); and (5) God reaffirmed this promise
even when Israel was unfaithful (2 Chron. 21:7). Such
unconditional promises that involve free choices would not be
possible unless God knew all future free choices.
Neotheists offer 1 Kings 2:1–4 as an
example of how a seemingly unconditional promise is really
conditional. God promised David concerning his son Solomon,
"My love will never be taken from him, as I took it away
from Saul, whom I removed from before you" (2 Sam.
7:15–16). Later, however, God seemed to have taken His promise
back, making it conditional on whether Solomon and his
descendants would "walk faithfully before [Him]" (1
Kings 2:1–4). On the basis of these passages, they argue that
all seemingly unconditional promises are really conditional.
This argument fails for many reasons. First,
it is a non sequitur since their conclusion is much broader than
the premises. Even if this were an example of an implied
condition, it would not prove that all promises are conditional.
Second, it overlooks the many cases in
Scripture (see above) where there are unconditional promises.
These are counterexamples that refute the contention that all
God’s promises are conditional.
Third, it is inconsistent with the neotheist
view of God. They insist that God is an ontologically
independent Being, yet God’s knowledge is part of His essence
or being. How then can God’s knowledge be dependent on
Finally and most significantly, the argument
is based on a failure to see that the two texts refer to two
different things. In 2 Samuel, God was speaking to David about
never taking the kingdom away from his son Solomon. This promise
was fulfilled, for, despite Solomon’s sins (1 Kings 11:1–2),
the kingdom was not taken from him during his entire lifetime.
In fact, the fulfillment is explicitly stated when God said to
Solomon, "Since this is your attitude and you have not kept
my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most
certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of
your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your
father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will
tear it out of the hand of your son" (1 Kings 11:11–12,
emphasis added). Thus, God did keep His promise to David about
The other text (1 Kings 2:1–4) is not
speaking about God’s promise to David concerning His son
Solomon. Rather, it refers to God taking the kingdom from one of
Solomon’s sons. No unconditional promise was made here. From
his death bed David exhorted Solomon, "Walk in [God’s]
ways, and keep his decrees and commands...that you may prosper
in all you do and wherever you go, and that the LORD may keep
his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they
live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all
their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a man on the
throne of Israel’" (1 Kings 2:3–4, emphasis added).
This promise was both conditional ("if") and limited
to Solomon’s sons. It said nothing about Solomon, concerning
whom God apparently made an unconditional promise not to take
his throne away during his lifetime.
It Undermines Confidence in God’s
One of the practical consequences of making
all predictions conditional is that it undermines confidence in
God’s Word. If we cannot be sure that even God can keep His
word, then it undermines our belief in His faithfulness. The
Bible, however, says we can accept God’s Word unconditionally.
Sometimes it says this explicitly in the context of affirming
that He knows "the end from the beginning" (Isa.
46:10). In this context Paul wrote, "if we are faithless,
he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself" (2
Tim. 2:13). Again, he reminds us that "God’s gifts and
his call are irrevocable" (Rom. 11:29). Hence, with regard
to these unconditional promises, "It does not, therefore,
depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy"
It Hinders Belief in God’s Ability
to Answer Prayer
Despite the fact that neotheists make much of
God’s dynamic ability to answer prayer, it would appear that
their concept of God actually undermines confidence in God’s
use of special providence in answering prayer. They admit, as
indeed they must, that most answers to prayer do not involve a
direct supernatural intervention in the world. Rather, God works
through special providence in unusual ways to accomplish unusual
things. But a God who does not know for sure what any future
free act will be is severely limited in His logistic ability to
do things that can be done by a God who knows every
decision that will be made. Thus, ironically, the neotheistic
God is a liability to answered prayer, which they consider
extremely important to a personal God.
It Implies That God Would Not Know Who
the Elect Are
If neotheists are correct, then God does not
know who will accept His salvation. They opt for a corporate
election, in which God knows that Christ is elect and hence all
who are in Him will be elect — whoever they are. But there are
serious problems with this view. The Bible tells us that there
will be some elect, but according to the neotheists’
view God could not even be sure that there will be any
elect. The "bus" destined for heaven may be empty if
all invited occupants freely choose not to take it.
Furthermore, how could they even be certain
that any "bus" is going to heaven? After all,
according to their view they cannot even be sure that Christ
would choose to resist evil (for presumably He had a libertarian
free will, too). No wonder one exponent of process theology,
after which their view is patterned, said that God is waiting
with baited breath to see how things will turn out!
This conclusion is contrary to the Bible.
Scripture informs us that Christ was "the Lamb that was
slain from the creation of the world" (Rev. 13:8) and that
some individuals were chosen in Him before the world began (Rom.
8:29; Eph. 1:4). But this would not have been possible to say
unless God knew their future free acts.
Finally, Paul included himself among those
whom God knew and chose before the foundation of the world (Eph.
1:4). If God cannot know future free acts, this would not have
A HOUSE BUILT OF CARDS
In summation, since neotheists assert that
God is infinite and omniscient and an ontologically independent
Creator of this world ex nihilo, then their belief that He is
mutable, temporal, and does not know future free acts is
incompatible. Indeed, the only consistent way to believe the
latter is for neotheists to forsake theism entirely and adopt
panentheism. The neotheistic halfway house is built of cards: it
has no consistent structure. Its proponents live in a
theological no man’s land. They cannot have it both ways.
There is no logical stopping point between classical theism and
contemporary panentheism. The traditional attributes of God
stand or fall together.
The challenge is this: "Choose for
yourselves this day whom you will serve" (Josh. 24:15). The
alternatives are the self-existing I AM of Scripture who says,
"I the Lord do not change" (Mal. 3:6) and who
"knows the end from the beginning" (Isa. 46:10), or
the Whiteheadian god of process thought who is waiting with
baited breath to see how things will turn out. As for me and my
house, I will choose the God of Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas.
Triple A theism has always been the best way to travel on the
Norman L. Geisler is president of
Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina, and
is the author of more than 40 books, including Creating God
in the Image of Man? The New "Open" View of God —
Neotheism’s Dangerous Drift (Bethany House, 1997).
1Clark Pinnock, et al., The
Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional
Understanding of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press,
2Those who have written books include Richard Rice, God’s
Foreknowledge and Man’s Free Will (Minneapolis: Bethany
House, 1985); Ronald Nash, ed., Process Theology (Grand
Rapids: Baker Books, 1987); Greg Boyd, Trinity and Process
(New York: Peter Lang, 1992) and Letters from a Skeptic
(Colorado Springs: Victor Books, 1994); J. R. Lucas, The
Freedom of the Will (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970)
and The Future: An Essay on God, Temporality and Truth
(London: Basil Blackwell, 1989); Peter Geach, Providence and
Evil (Cambridge: University Press, 1977); and Richard
Swinburne, The Coherence of Theism (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1977). Thomas V. Morris, Our Idea of God:
An Introduction to Philosophical Theology (Downers Grove,
IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991), is close to the view. A. N.
Prior, Richard Purtill, and others have written articles
defending neotheism. Still others show sympathy to the view,
such as Stephen T. Davis, Logic and the Nature of God
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983) and Linda Zagzebski, The
Dilemma of Freedom and Foreknowledge (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1991).
3Clark Pinnock, "Between Classical and Process
Theism," in Nash; William Hasker, God, Time and
Knowledge (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989);
David and Randall Basinger, eds., Predestination and Free
Will (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986).
4See Norman L. Geisler and William D. Watkins, Worlds
Apart: A Handbook of World Views (Grand Rapids: Baker Book
5By the "libertarian" or "incompatibilist"
view of free will they mean "an agent" is free with
respect to a given action at a given time if at that time
"it is within the agent’s power to perform the action and
also in the agent’s power to refrain from the action" (Pinnock,
et al., 136–37). By the "compatibilist" view of free
will they mean "an agent is free with respect to a given
action at a given time if at that time it is true that the agent
can perform the action if she decides to perform it and she can
refrain from the action if she decides not to perform it"
(137). As they observe, "the difference between the two
definitions may not be immediately apparent." The main
distinction is that on a libertarian view, for free will to
exist one must have both "inner freedom" (no
overwhelming desire to the contrary) and "outer
freedom" (no external restraints); on the compatibilist’s
view only "outer freedom to carry out the decision either
way she makes it" is necessary, even if "the decision
itself may be completely determined by the psychological forces
at work in her personality" (ibid.).
8See R. Garrigou-LaGrange, God: His Existence and
Nature (St. Louis: B. Herder Books, 1946), appendix 4,